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November 08, 2009|Alexandra Sandels; Suzanne Muchnic; Jane Engle; Jeannine Stein


Muslim pilgrims urged not to smoke

Saudi Arabia's health ministry is launching a campaign to make the holy cities of Mecca and Medina smoke-free during this year's pilgrimage season.

The move is a part of a larger health drive for the pilgrimage season that has been spearheaded by the ministry to create a healthier environment for pilgrims and prevent a swine flu breakout among them. More than 2 million people travel to the two Muslim holy cities each year to perform the pilgrimage.

Speaking to the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, Majed Al-Munif of the health ministry's Tobacco Control Program said that brochures advertising the anti-smoking campaign are being handed out to arriving pilgrims.

The Middle East, home to smoke-filled teahouses, is now slowly jumping on the smoke-free bandwagon. Beirut, for example, recently organized a smoke-free night on its bar-crowded Gemmayze strip, and Turkey banned smoking in public places earlier this year.

To speed up the ministry's goal of making Mecca and Medina free of cigarette smoke, tobacco sales have apparently been banned within a three-mile radius of the two cities and the areas have been declared tobacco-free.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

From Babylon & Beyond: Observations from the Middle East and the Arab World

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Edward Ruscha print sets record

"Standard Station (E. 5)," a 1966 print by Edward Ruscha, was sold Wednesday for $170,000 -- the top price in a Bonhams & Butterfields auction.

Paintings by the Los Angeles-based artist have commanded up to $6.9 million at auction, the sum fetched by "Burning Gas Station" in 2007, but "Standard Station" soared past its estimated selling price of $30,000 to $40,000, setting an auction record for a Ruscha print.

The crisp, brightly colored image of a Standard Oil station is No. 33 of an edition of 50 screenprints published by Audrey Sabol in Villanova, Pa., and printed by Art Krebs in Los Angeles. The previous auction record for a Ruscha print was established in 2007, when "Hollywood" was sold for $133,000.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

From Culture Monster: All the arts, all the time

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Enjoy a free day at national parks

National parks and forests will waive entrance fees for one day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, to honor servicemen and women. Unlike past years, when only U.S. veterans, active members of the U.S. armed forces and their families got a free pass, this year's Veterans Day observance will allow everyone in for free.

You'll still owe fees for camping, permits and other activities. But you can save a lot anyway because some popular parks, including California's Yosemite National Park, normally charge entrance fees of $20 or so per car.

One of the most moving war memorials that I've ever visited is the USS Arizona Memorial in, part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument that stretches across that great ocean. It was memorable for the reverential silence of its visitors, its shrine with the daunting list of battle victims and the haunting experience of standing atop the long-sunk warship where so many made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

-- Jane Engle

From The Daily Travel & Deal: Hand-picked travel deals, news and tips

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Sleep may enhance skills

Sleep is essential for memory, including learning motor skills after practicing them. But sleep -- and when that sleep takes place -- may also enhance memory of motor skills that are learned just through observation, according to a new study. The findings could have implications for children, athletes, and those who have to relearn basic skills after suffering an injury or stroke.

Researchers showed a video of a hand performing parallel finger tapping tests to 64 people. The study participants were later asked to perform the same sequence of the task or a different one. Participants who slept within 12 hours of the observation improved the speed and accuracy of their finger tapping skills. No improvements were noted if the participants slept more than 12 hours after the initial observation. And, practicing the movements wasn't required to improve skills.

In the study, the authors wrote, "These results could have implications for (re)learning movements in cases where practice is difficult or impossible, as in children, during rehabilitation following stroke or fractures, or in complex skill acquisition in, for example, sports or surgical techniques. An important recommendation in such circumstances would be to perform the observation just before sleep onset."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

-- Jeannine Stein

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

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