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July 26, 2009|Amro Hassan in Cairo; Jeannine Stein; David Colker; Patrick Kevin Day


Swine flu concerns affect pilgrims

To curtail the spread of swine flu, Arab health ministers from across the Middle East have agreed that elderly, young and chronically ill Muslims should be forbidden from traveling to Saudi Arabia for the upcoming hajj and umrah pilgrimages.

The decision came after a meeting of health ministers from Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan in Cairo last week, which was part of a special session of the Regional Committee for World Health Organization on the H1N1 flu virus. Those banned from making the pilgrimage include anyone over 65 and under 12, as well as pregnant women and the chronically ill.

"Hajj and umrah will continue but with some conditions," the WHO's spokesman in Egypt, Ibrahim Kerdani, said after the ministers' meeting. "Some groups will be excluded."

Kerdani confirmed that in addition to the age restrictions, anyone suffering from long-standing heart, kidney, diabetic, liver or blood pressure diseases will not be granted visas to enter Saudi Arabia for the coming holy season. Egypt witnessed the first swine flu death in the Middle East and Africa when a 25-year-old woman died on a pilgrimage.

More than 3 million Muslims are expected to visit Saudi Arabia for umrah during Ramadan, which begins in August, as well as the hajj in November.

Some in the Arab news media have called on Saudi Arabia to cancel this year's hajj, but the kingdom has resisted such pressure.

Iranian authorities have repeated calls for the elderly and children to avoid traveling to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

From Babylon & Beyond: Observations from Iraq, Iran, Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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Packing on the pounds at the fair

Going to a county fair this summer? If so, you might want to do some exercise before you go. Like, oh, a marathon or something. Because if you plan on indulging in high-calorie fair food, you're going to need to either burn if off or book a room at the nearest cardiac unit.

There's no denying what you're eating, now that CalorieKing, a website with a database of nutritional information for more than 50,000 generic and brand-name foods, has come out with nutritional information on all kinds of fair and carnival delights. Available in the 2009 edition of the book "The CalorieKing Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter," and on the website, all we'll say is, the news isn't great.

Those gargantuan smoked turkey legs with skin weigh in at 1,135 calories (each) and 54 grams of fat, a foot-long hot dog with bun is 470 calories and 26 grams of fat, and a funnel cake is 760 calories and 44 grams of fat. A 5-ounce fried Snickers bar is 445 calories and 29 grams of fat, a fried Twinkie is 420 calories and 34 grams of fat, and cheesecake on a stick is 655 calories and 47 grams of fat.

-- Jeannine Stein

From Booster Shots: Oddities, musings and news from the world of health

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Cellphones a prison danger

The house phone in the big house is, all too often, of the cellular variety.

Prison officials say cellphones are being used by inmates to secretly run criminal empires -- and even order up murders -- on the outside. Smuggling the little phones into prisons has proved all too easy.

They've come in with visitors and by slingshot over the walls, and this month prison guards in Brazil discovered an exhausted carrier pigeon that was carrying a little backpack with a phone inside.

So if you can't beat 'em, you might as well zap 'em. A bill making its way through the U.S. Senate would allow prison officials to use jamming devices to make the wireless phones useless inside the walls.

In other words, a cell would no longer work inside a cell.

-- David Colker

From Technology: The business and culture of our digital lives

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Making 'Harry Potter's' werewolf

Special makeup designer Nick Dudman had to scramble to complete the look of the werewolf Death Eater Fenrir Greyback in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

"They didn't select [actor Dave Legeno] until quite late, and we didn't have a lot of time," Dudman explained.

Luckily, this wasn't some two-bit indie production; this was a big-budget Warner Bros. blockbuster, with the resources to go with it. "We had about 10 people on just that one character," Dudman said. "We can take the time to pay attention to detail."

For Greyback, Dudman's team spent seven months stockpiling a supply of multi-piece silicone makeup to be applied to the actor's head and chest, with each bit of goat hair individually punched into the makeup. "You can't use wig lace, because it will show," Dudman said. "It has to be done by hand."

It took about 5 1/2 days to apply the hairs for one set of makeup that would be used for only one day of shooting. Dudman had no way around it. "The makeup removal process would always result in the silicone pieces being destroyed."

Patrick Kevin Day


From Hero Complex: News on genre films, graphic novels and science fiction

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