Masterpiece of Jesus is destroyed after old lady's attempt to restore damage is a less-than-divine intervention

A fading fresco and a DIY fiasco: Masterpiece of Jesus is destroyed after old lady's attempt to restore damage is a less-than-divine intervention - Woman in her 80s attempted to restore the damaged 19th century religious artwork by herself - Her botched effort has infuriated locals and art experts in Zaragoza, Spain -The fresco was set to be repaired by professionals thanks to a donation from the artist's granddaughter

All her life, the elderly worshipper had been inspired by her church’s fresco of Jesus with his crown of thorns.

So when the plaster portrait began to crumble owing to damp, the woman in her 80s decided not to stand idly by.

Without consulting the authorities at the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Borjanos, southern Spain, she marched in with oil paint and brush, and started work on her own private restoration project.

'Restored': The image bears more resemblance to a character from Planet of the Apes than to Jesus after a woman in her 80's 'repaired' it without permission

Original: Elias Garcia Martinez's 'Ecce Homo', which has been admired by worshippers at the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Zaragoza, Spain, for more than 120 years

Damaged: Moisture in the church caused the surface of the fresco, which has huge sentimental value, to deteriorate

Quite what she thinks of her handiwork has not been disclosed. But her fellow worshippers are horrified.

The 120-year-old fresco, Ecce Homo by Elijah Garcia Martinez, has been transformed into something which looks more like a movie werewolf.

To add to the general embarrassment, a local Catholic cultural foundation, the Centre for Borjanos, had received a donation from the granddaughter of the artist which it was about to spend on returning the fresco to its former glory.

As a team of experts examined the woman’s handiwork to see if it can be reversed, a spokesman for the centre said: ‘The value of the original work was not very high but it was more of a sentimental value.

‘The lady, who is in her 80s, apparently considers herself to be an artist. She acted without authorisation from anyone.

‘The church is always open because many people visit and although there is a guard, no one realised what she was doing until she had finished.’ ( )

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Michelangelo's Ugliest Drawing May Not Be His

Michelangelo's Ugliest Drawing May Not Be His - Michelangelo's portrait of Cleopatra holding an asp to her breast has been celebrated as an ideal Renaissance composition of an idealized woman. With pearls, braided hair and a slender neck, the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt faces her death by snakebite with a detached, elegant gaze. 

Curators had suspected there was another Michelangelo sketch on black-chalk drawing's reverse side; they could vaguely make out a hidden picture when the work was held up to light. But 25 years ago, when conservators finally peeled off its thick paper backing, art historians were astounded by the ugliness of the secret portrait of Cleopatra that was revealed.
Michelangelo's portrait of Cleopatra
The reverse side of Michelangelo's drawing, revealed in 1988.

The drawing that had been concealed for centuries showed the Ptolemaic ruler in a grotesque state of anguish, with her bulging, blank eyes looking forward and her mouth gracelessly agape, baring big teeth. Perhaps even more puzzling was the poor draftsmanship of the sketch. Michelangelo knew how to how to make stylishly tormented figures, so why was this one so especially ugly? At least one art historian thinks the reverse drawing is merely misattributed to the Renaissance master, and may have been sketched by his student instead. 

The lovelier Cleopatra portrait was known to have been made for a handsome young Roman nobleman Tommaso de' Cavalieri, with whom Michelangelo struck up a friendship in 1532. Writing for ARTnews, William E. Wallace, of Washington University in Saint Louis, says Cavalieri may have tried his hand at drawing a classicized head, perhaps based on an antique sculpture, during a lesson with Michelangelo. 

When the student's drawing foundered, the teacher may have stepped in, according to Wallace's version of events. 

"To demonstrate 'buon disegno' (good design), Michelangelo reversed the sheet and performed a miracle of artistic alchemy: ugliness became beauty, harrowing but unbecoming emotion became serene resignation, an indecorous head was transformed into a doomed Cleopatra," Wallace writes. 

Both sides of the artwork are set to go on display this month at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts as part of an exhibition of the Italian master's drawings, called "Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane." The show, which was organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., brings together 11 drawings of figures and 14 architectural designs by Michelangelo, including his unrealized plan for San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, a church in Rome. ( )

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Ten Things Your Health Insurance Plan Will Soon Have to Cover

Ten Things Your Health Insurance Plan Will Soon Have to Cover - Treatment for substance abuse and mental health are included in the benefits all health insurance plans must help pay for starting in January 2014.

If you’ve ever had health insurance, you’re probably all too familiar with what your plan won’t cover; the list of expenses denied when you try to file a claim can seem endless. It’s easy to wonder what is covered.

But this week Americans got a lot more clarity about what health insurance plans must cover starting in January 2014, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just published its list of what it calls “essential health benefits.”

These ten new categories apply to both individual and small employer plans, as well as new plans under Medicaid that will cover, for the first time, low-income adults even if they don’t have kids. And some large employers who provide health insurance may add in some benefits from the new list as well.

It’s a strong list, and includes, importantly, coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment—not currently part of many health insurance plans. But the specifics of what you get—such as how many days of in-patient treatment for drug abuse—will be left up to each insurance plan. Those specifics will also be determined by how much you pay for coverage.

When signing up this fall for insurance, New York City resident Kim L. is hoping for an affordable insurance plan with outpatient coverage. His bill for a $40,000-plus stay at an inpatient facility for seven weeks over the summer of 2012 to treat alcohol and antidepressant abuse was waived by the facility because he knew one of the doctors. But his business failed while he was away, and he let his health insurance lapse. He’s hoping a new, affordable plan will come with outpatient counseling to help him stay clean.

What Kim, or anyone else, pays depends on the type of plan they choose. The new rules allow insurers to have “metal levels”—platinum, gold, silver, and bronze—that charge different rates for premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. As you might guess, the specific benefits you get for each depend on what level you pay for.

Simply put, the broad categories of treatment and care that each plan must provide–thanks to this week’s rules—include:

  1. outpatient medical care
  2. emergency care
  3. hospitalization
  4. maternity and newborn care
  5. mental health and substance use disorder services
  6. prescription drugs
  7. rehabilitation services and devices
  8. lab tests
  9. preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  10. pediatric services, including dental and vision care
The devil may be in the details, though: Breastfeeding supplies are a good example. Coverage for the supplies actually went into effect last August, but insurance plans have leeway on what they provide. Not all offer lactation consultant services, for example.

In response to the release of the new essential health benefits standards, Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the American Association of Health Insurance Plans, a leading industry lobbying group, said, “The minimum essential health benefits standard will still require many individuals and small businesses to purchase coverage that is more comprehensive and more expensive than they choose to purchase today.”

All the more reason for people planning to buy new insurance under the ACA to be well-informed when the exchanges open on October 1.

The HHS offers a checklist for individuals, families, and small businesses to get ready for enrollment, including a list of questions to ask health insurance plans, a primer on insurance basics, and help budgeting for insurance.
Have you given any thought to your health insurance under the coming changes from the Affordable Care Act? Do you know if you’ll stick with the plan you have or choose something new? ( )

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Ebola: Still the Scariest Virus Out There?

Ebola: Still the Scariest Virus Out There? - Simply uttering the word Ebola is enough to cause a person to cringe, shudder, twitch, or perhaps even recoil in horror. Rightly so. Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF), the result of an infection with one of the four identified sub-types of Ebola viruses known to affect humans, is gruesome. Ebola infection can result in a mortality rate as high as 90 percent of all infected individuals, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The real horror, though, comes when you know that no one is sure where Ebola can be found (until there’s an outbreak, of course); there are no vaccines and no treatments; and we’re still uncertain about how people are infected in the first place.

Ebola hit the international stage without warning and with dumbfounding devastation. In 1976, outbreaks in Zaire and Sudan resulted in 318 and 284 cases, with 280 and 151 deaths, respectively. Since 1976, sporadic outbreaks have occurred, ranging from a single case to a massive 425 cases in Uganda in 2000. Since 1976, well over 2,000 cases have been identified, with over 1,000 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), outbreaks have occurred in Uganda as recently as November 2012.

Ebola HF, named after a river where it was first recognized in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), is a disease that affects humans and non-human primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) that was first recognized in 1976. It’s a type of RNA virus known as Filoviridae. There are four sub-types of the virus that cause disease in humans: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, Ebola-Ivory Coast, and Ebola-Bundibugyo. A fifth type, Ebola-Reston, can cause disease in primates, but has not affected humans in the past.

All confirmed cases of Ebola HF in humans have occurred in African countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, the Ivory Coast, the Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Uganda. The Ebola-Reston virus, dangerous to monkeys, was found in research laboratories in the United States, Italy, and the Philippines. While some researchers were also infected with this strain, they were asymptomatic.

The WHO thinks that the route of transmission is zoonotic, meaning the Ebola is spread from animal to human. Contact with infected primates, and interestingly enough, fruit bats and dead forest antelope or porcupines have been documented as ways the virus gets passed along to people. Once in a human host, transmission between humans can happen via blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids. Scarier still is the fact that burial ceremonies of dead Ebola patients, healthcare worker interaction with patients, and even semen passed up to seven weeks post-infection, can play all a role in transmission, too.

The incubation period—the time between infection and when a person has symptoms—is estimated to be between two and 21 days. Ebola HF is an acute-onset disease, meaning, it’ll happen fast, with immediate symptoms that can include joint pain, fever, chills, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, nausea, sore throat, and vomiting, according to the National Institutes of Health. As the disease progresses, the most severe symptoms—for which Ebola HF became infamous—begin to take their toll: bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, rectum, and internal bleeding may occur. Depression, swollen eyes and genitals, painful skin, a red, inflamed roof of the mouth, and a hemorrhagic rash (containing blood) over the entire body characterize the most devastating symptoms.

The prognosis is poor: Between 25 and 90 percent of all outbreak cases of Ebola HF die, usually from low blood pressure (aka shock), rather than blood loss, as might be expected. Early, non-specific symptoms can make Ebola HF difficult to diagnose, but lab tests can detect the disease within a few days of disease onset.

It is difficult to pin down preventative measures when the exact location and mode of transmission are unknown. For now, the best advice available, echoed by the CDC, WHO, and others, is to avoid endemic areas in times of outbreaks altogether. Since there’s no treatment for Ebola HF the most that can be done for a patient is what’s called “supported therapy,” which entails balancing fluids and electrolytes, blood pressure, oxygen, and monitoring for other infections.

A recent study in the journal Chemistry and Biology found potential for a treatment and cure, in a compound that can block viral RNA synthesis, among other things. The research showed that sometimes the scientists could prevent the Ebola virus (and others) from proliferating by using a compound known as CMLDBU3402. It will be important to see if anyone else can repeat these results and potentially develop treatment for Ebola and other deadly RNA viruses.

While Ebola HF is unlikely to cause the next zombie apocalypse, as long as no treatment is available this virus will remain a terrifying and almost mythical disease. ( )
Why do you think that Ebola looms so large in people’s fears, even while viruses like malaria, dengue fever, and even the flu kill so many more people?--By Steve Purcell

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Yoga in the NBA -Teams add to their strength and conditioning programs

Yoga in the NBA -Teams add to their strength and conditioning programs — Every NBA player — frankly, nearly every athlete — has an internal clock counting down the days until he can no longer play the game professionally. In that time, he is likely to make an incredible amount of money. And he is to do it while playing a sport which he is likely to have loved for all, or at least most, of his life. It only makes sense for each player to maximize his time at the highest level by ensuring his body is physically fit and his mind mentally prepared to endure the various stresses that each new season brings. This is why yoga has become a valued training method for NBA players.

While most players seem to take up the India-originated discipline on their own time, there are a few teams around the League that give their players an opportunity to practice it.

The Denver Nuggets are one of those teams, having employed a yoga instructor for the past seven years to work with players primarily during the offseason. The Atlanta Hawks hired a yoga instructor before this season to train their players in the finer points of the discipline. The New York Knicks used to have a yoga instructor occasionally visit their practice facility in Westchester, just outside New York City, yet a team representative confirmed they no longer do so. Then there are the Los Angeles Clippers, a long-moribund franchise which isn’t often associated with progressiveness. Yet that’s exactly what they are when the subject falls on yoga in the NBA.

For the past eight years, they’ve employed yoga instructor Kent Katich to work their players through yoga sessions, with Katich gradually becoming more involved with players’ training regimens each season. Even though he’s not listed on the staff directory on the Clippers’ website, he travels with the team and is on the court pregame to help warm up players.

That there is even one NBA team which has a yoga instructor on the payroll is fairly surprising. Yoga has a fundamental association with nature and soft music and showing one’s sensitive side. That doesn’t jive with an NBA environment that is filled with aggressiveness, even ruthlessness. “Soft” doesn’t work; NBA players can read through someone trying to tap into their inner self.

“You can’t talk about the sun and opening your heart,” Katich said. “[The players] are going to shut you off, and they’re going to laugh at you.”

Katich, who played basketball at the University of South Dakota and professionally in Sweden during the 1980s, practices a physical brand of yoga that helps players’ breathing patterns, flexibility, balance, strength, body awareness and self-consciousness. He tests players physically, but he said he piques their interest more by just fitting in.

Many of the Clippers have bought what Katich is teaching. “Yoga helps center you, especially for what we do,” said Clippers guard Baron Davis. “If you can find a place that keeps you centered, both mentally and physically, it can help push your game to the next level.”

The biggest hurdle for someone in an instructor’s position is to earn a player’s trust, Katich said. To earn their trust means earning their respect, which makes it easier for him to introduce the player to a type of training with which he might not be familiar.

Katich told of one practice when he was helping warm up two players, one of whom was new to the team. The players began talking about a subject which normally would be off-limits for trainers, coaches and others. The new player looked hesitantly at Katich, wary of letting someone else into the conversation. Yet the other player sensed it and told him that Katich was cool. “They have to know they can trust you,” Katich said.

Trust Katich, they do; the list of NBAers who work with him is exhaustive. In addition to practically any Clipper of the past eight seasons, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari have trained with Katich. In fact, Katich estimates he’s put at least 25 percent of the players in the League through some type of yoga movement. Name a team, and he’ll tick off three or four players he’s trained.

To be a yoga instructor for an NBA squad is an awkward experience. Katich is an independent teacher, as are Nancy Nielsen, who trains the Nuggets, and Michelle Young, who works with the Hawks. Their work must coincide with the goals of the team’s training staff. Katich cited other variables at play.

Upper management may not want to pay for a training activity which they consider a luxury rather than a necessity. The training staff could feel threatened by the presence of someone who could gain the player’s trust through a different type of exercise. The coach may not view yoga as having much value; even worse, he may just find it weird.

Katich recalled one “very well-known” coach, as he termed it, who wanted yoga to be called stretching around the team. “The players would still call me the Yoga Guy,” Katich said. He noted he has achieved harmony with the Clippers training staff by working within their confines.

A similar dynamic has taken place with the Nuggets. Nielsen has worked with the team twice per week in the offseason for seven years, according to Nuggets strength and conditioning coach Steve Hess. Only on special occasions will she work with players in-season. Still, Hess said they’ve responded well to the program.

“The guys generally like it, and I’m finding more often the guys who go back to their cities during the offseason, they’ll definitely look into [practicing it more],” Hess said.

He explained that NBA players are much like athletes in other professional sports — they’ve evolved their taste for training in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Dallas Mavericks forward Brian Cardinal, whose wife is a yoga instructor, reserves his time on the yoga mat for the offseason, even though he admitted younger players have opened up to the discipline.

“I’m a big believer in it,” said the 11-year big man, who prefers sticking to his yoga-free in-season routine. “I think the newer generation of will do it much more than older athletes.”

Two of his teammates, forward Shawn Marion and guard Jason Terry, don’t share his enthusiasm.

“That shit is hard,” Marion said. He claimed he’s tried yoga only a few times at his offseason home in Chicago; accessibility to it has kept him from trying it on a more frequent basis, although he wouldn’t elaborate exactly what was inaccessible about it.

Terry explained he avoids yoga for the simple fact that it’s painful. “I don’t like pain,” Terry said. “Why would you do something that hurts?”

While it’s difficult to question Terry’s logic, some players have found the pain a temporary hurdle in the way of increased flexibility, among other physical benefits of yoga. Yet Marion and Terry outwardly dismissed it, claiming that most players aren’t that flexible anyway.

“Keep it this way: I haven’t touched my toes in 12 years,” Marion said. “I still didn’t touch them after [yoga].”

Young, the Hawks’ yoga instructor, has worked with the team since the preseason. Athletic trainer Wally Blase brought her in to help solidify players’ injury prevention, part of which required them to gain flexibility. She employs power yoga, which takes advantage of players’ superior physical condition by challenging their strength and endurance.

“Some of them do it because they have to,” Young said. “Some do it because they love it.”

Although the sessions are sporadic given that she doesn’t travel with the team, Young said the players have made significant progress in their ability to hold poses. Their progress includes what Marion said was a physical incapability: touching their toes. They couldn’t do it when she arrived in September.

“That wasn’t even an option,” Young said. “Now, you can see they’re getting down closer to their toes.” Some players had such stiff knees that they couldn’t balance on one leg. Yoga has helped loosen their hips, knees and ankles. And it was easier for the players to loosen up once Young convinced them to perform their sessions barefoot — the players would normally come in with their ankles taped, ready for the team practice that would take place after yoga.

Katich noted that players are often more flexible than they give themselves credit for. But he did find their breathing patterns were not in sync with their body movements. One reason for it is they’ve learned how to breathe when playing basketball and when lifting weights, but not for the movements necessary in yoga.

Neilsen runs the Nuggets through Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga. It’s practiced in rooms that are set from 100 to 105 degrees. Their classes will last 45 to 60 minutes, and Nielsen will develop individual programs for players, upon request.

Katich gets to the Clippers’ practice facility an hour and a half before practice; he typically has 5-20 minutes available for yoga and for stretching. He’s in the locker room 2 1/2 hours before games helping players get stretched out and mentally prepared. That particular part of his job is why he thinks it’s so much easier for men to be yoga instructors in the NBA.

He explained that as a man, he can be with the players in the locker room, travel with them, or hang out with them before games and practice, and it isn’t awkward. That wouldn’t be the case if it were a woman in his role.

Katich noted that there are times when a woman will enter into a male-dominated environment and “try to soften them and open their hearts, using language they’re not ready for.”

When women have called him for advice on teaching yoga to men — not necessarily NBA-related — Katich has recommended wearing sweats, not tights. “They have to camouflage their bodies,” Katich said.

Young admitted her first session with the Hawks was “totally intimidating.” She said she would get a sly, off-color comment at times, but that it’s become a non-issue as they’ve progressed with the classes. Still, it’s not something that should be unexpected.

“They’re 25-year-old guys,” Young said. “What do you expect?”

While that dynamic won’t change in time — young men are always liable to create an awkward situation for females, at least initially — yoga certainly has a bright future in the League.

Knicks center Ronny Turiaf claimed Katich has helped him improve his flexibility and gain a better understanding of how his body works. Turiaf began working with Katich several years ago with friends Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

“It’s something that really helped me,” Turiaf said before noting he doesn’t work with Katich now, although he’d welcome the opportunity to do so. Turiaf did admit that some players could struggle in their acceptance of yoga.

“When you try to bring new ideas and new concepts into people’s lives, sometimes it takes people a while to react to it.”

Young thinks it will take at least a couple years for more players to warm up to it. While stars like Nowitzki, Love and even LeBron James have used it for years, conventional strength and conditioning is still the preferred option for most teams.

Hess was frank about his responsibility to the players. “I think the most important thing to understand is we’re researching what’s best for the team,” Hess said. “As strength and conditioning individuals, we have to be careful not to get our egos too much involved. We have to think of what’s best for the players, not what’s best for us. Sometimes we’re limited in bringing different things to the players because it’s not in the realm of what we necessarily do.”

Katich was adamant in his assessment that players have accepted yoga. “The guys are cool with it,” he said. “We’ve moved past it. Yoga’s yoga. They see it in commercials. It’s acceptable at this point.” ( )

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Could a missile strike on Iran cause an accidental nuclear detonation?

How To Demolish an Atomic Bomb - Could a missile strike on Iran cause an accidental nuclear detonation?

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both alluded to military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities at last week’s AIPAC meeting, and many commentators worry that war is becoming a more realistic possibility. With all that enriched uranium lying around, is there any chance a strike on one of Iran’s nuclear facilities could accidentally trigger a mushroom cloud?

Could blowing up nuclear-bomb-making materials cause an accidental nuclear explosion?
Department of Energy/Photodisc/Thinkstock.
No. A nuclear detonation cannot occur without a substantial amount of highly enriched uranium. (The International Atomic Energy Association says it would take at least 55 pounds of this material to create a weapon, but some experts say a modest nuclear bomb could be made with as little as 6 pounds using the most advanced technology.) Intelligence analysts believe that Iran hasn’t enriched enough uranium to pose an immediate risk, but even if they’re wrong, and Iran does have the capacity to build a bomb, it would still be incredibly unlikely for a missile strike to kick off a nuclear chain reaction. The explosion would scatter the fissile material instead.

The massive release of energy in a nuclear explosion comes from a chain reaction. A uranium atom splits, releasing three neutrons, which in turn strike neighboring uranium atoms and release more neutrons, accelerating the process. But if the uranium sample isn’t stored in a tightly packed, spherical container, escaping neutrons will fly off harmlessly and the reaction will fizzle. Nuclear enrichment facilities don’t store their uranium under these conditions unless they’re actually building a bomb. Based on everything we know, Iran is not at that stage.

But what if Iran had 55 pounds of 90-percent enriched uranium already assembled into a bomb, and a U.S. or Israeli missile strike hits that material dead-on? Even then, the strike isn’t likely to cause more than a minor nuclear detonation. The chain reaction in a nuclear bomb is carefully choreographed, with the most common strategy being to surround the fissile material with conventional explosives and then detonate the weapon with a finely tuned electrical charge. 

That has the effect of compressing the uranium simultaneously from all sides and preventing any uranium from escaping its container too quickly. All of the conventional explosives surrounding the fissile material must go off within microseconds of each other in order to contain the uranium. In the worse-case scenario, a missile strike on a facility containing nuclear weapons would almost certainly mess with the synchronization of the charges and the compression would be compromised. The nuclear chain reaction would either not occur at all, or it would be cut short.

A missile strike would be messy, though. An explosion could release gaseous uranium near the facility, which would cause kidney problems and possible cancer if inhaled or ingested. The strike might also release toxic fluorine gas. However, since the uranium would not have reacted to any significant extent, and therefore would not have given rise to cesium-137 or other hyper-radioactive particles, the disaster wouldn’t be as catastrophic as the breach of an active nuclear reactor or a true nuclear attack. Radiation sickness would be very unlikely.

Bonus Explainer: Can you set off a conventional bomb by shooting at it with a gun? It depends on the explosive. Some bomb materials, like dynamite, are highly sensitive to impact. Others, like C4 or TNT, can be shot with a gun or possibly even set on fire without exploding. ( )

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A potentially explosive situation?

If You Shoot a Bomb, Will It Explode? - What happens when a bullet hits dynamite.- A potentially explosive situation?

On Wednesday, air marshals in Miami shot and killed a man who was pretending to carry a bomb off a plane. According to an official account, the marshals ordered the man to get on the ground and then opened fire when he reached into his backpack. A government spokesman says the marshals acted properly and that "this was a textbook scenario." If he really had been toting a bomb, could bullets have set it off?

A potentially explosive situation?
Click image to expand.
A potentially explosive situation?

It depends on the explosive. Some bomb materials are highly sensitive to impact; if you shoot a gun at a stick of dynamite, for example, there's a good chance you'll set it off. Others are less susceptible to gunfire. The military tries to make its explosives as durable as it can, since you don't want soldiers blowing up from the impact of a single bullet. A block of C4 plastic explosive can withstand a rifle shot without exploding. You can even set one on fire without too much worry.

That doesn't mean a bomb made from C4 (or another insensitive explosive like TNT) is impervious to gunshots. Such a bomb would have a detonator, which is far more vulnerable. The detonator serves as a mini-bomb that produces enough energy to blow up the main explosive. Here's how it works: A power source—usually a few batteries—provides an electrical charge that sets off a tiny explosion in one part of the detonator. This sets off another, somewhat bigger charge, which in turn ignites the payload of C4 or TNT. If a bullet were to strike the detonator, it could easily set off the more-volatile explosives stored inside.

You'd have to be an unbelievable shot to pull that off, though. In general, detonators are very thin—about the diameter of a pencil—and only a few inches long. If the man in Miami had been carrying a bomb, the chances of an air marshal accidentally shooting the detonator would be very small. If the bullet had hit the TNT, it might have passed right through. It's also possible that a stray bullet could disable the bomb. A bullet that happened to strike the batteries could jar them loose and cut off power to the detonator.

Although some terrorists use stolen, military-grade explosives, many rely on improvised bombs that tend to be far more sensitive. The shoe-bomber Richard Reid was trying to blow himself up with a very unstable mixture called triacetone triperoxide, which is brewed from acetone, hydrogen peroxide, and a strong acid. He had trouble lighting the fuse; a gunshot might have done the trick.

As for the man in Miami, we don't even know if the air marshals shot at him with conventional bullets. In the past, marshals have used special ammunition designed for airplane safety. One variety consists of little pouches of Kevlar filled with lead shot. While these could disable (and perhaps kill) a person, the distributed impact they produce would be less likely than a conventional bullet to blow up a bag of explosives. Bomb technicians shoot special types of ammunition at suspicious packages all the time: A slug from a water cannon or a burst of powder from a 12-gauge shotgun can smack the bomb in such a way that it breaks apart without going off. ( )

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