The latest news stories from the major news organizations in Cebu and Manila in the Philippines, the US and other countries.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February 3, 2010 Major News Stories

More power sources

IN an effort to immediately address the power shortfall in Cebu, Cebu Gov. Gwen-dolyn Garcia got Kepco-Salcon Power Corp.'s (KSPC) assurance to finish the preventive maintenance of its plant ahead of schedule.

Pag-IBIG expands mandatory coverage to include OFWs

The government housing finance institution has expanded its mandatory coverage to include Filipino workers from formal and informal sectors here and abroad, it was learned Monday.

Tough love Pag-IBIG sues 30 delinquent employers

Thirty delinquent employers have been charged by the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG Fund) Cebu City after these were verified as not having enrolled their workers with Pag-IBIG or failed to remit the monthly contributions of their workers.

El Niño drought feared to cut RP's rice yields

A possible drought caused by the El Niño weather system could slash Philippines rice yields this year, the government warned Tuesday, as Manila prepared to deal with any possible crisis.

Gov't earmarks over $300 million for El Nino mitigation

The Philippine agriculture department is allocating P1.7 billion pesos ($364.8 million) to mitigate the impact of the El Nino to this year's farm production.

DOH: Hepatitis C now in epidemic levels

Itinuturing nang epidemiya ng Department of Health ang mga kaso ng Hepatitis C sa mga nagtuturok ng illegal na droga sa kanilang katawan. Babala pa ng DOH, mas delikadong dapuan ng sakit na ito ang mga maysakit na AIDS.

DOH on HIV alarm: "It's not who you are, but what you do"

The National Epidemiology Center of the Department of Health clarified that it did not intend to imply that call center agents per se are at higher risk of getting infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

CHED to underperforming nursing schools: Shape up or else

Tinaningan ng 2 hanggang 3 taon ng Commission on Higher Education ang mga nursing school na madalas may pinaka-kaunting "passer" sa licensure exam! Kung di raw magbabago ito, mapipilitan ang CHED na ipasara ang mga eskwelahan!

Fire guts 20 homes in Talisay City

Almost 20 houses were gutted by a fire that hit a village in Talisay City, Tuesday morning.

Court okays temporary stay at CIDG-7 stockade for SPO1 Dumpit

The Regional Trial Court has granted the request for temporary custody of SPO1 Adonis Dumpit to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group pending the resolution of his motion seeking the court's approval for his detention at the CIDG facility in lieu of the Cebu City Jail during the pendency of his murder case.

Pa hangs 2 sons in sack for abandoning their task

FOR not finishing their chores, two boys were forced by their father inside a sack and were left hanging inside it for several hours.

Officials of Barangay Bagtik, San Remigio took pity on the boys and rescued them past 3 p.m. Sunday.

Police arrested the father, a 43-year-old parolee of the Iwahig Penal Colony in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

Investigation showed that the father got angry at his sons, aged 10 and seven, after they abandoned their task at their small farm.

A report from the San Remigio Police Station stated that the day before, the boys were whipped. After leaving their chores, they reportedly went to their uncle's house, which was nearby, and spent the night.

Their father then found them there and brought them home.

PO1 Morena Montañez, designated officer of the San Remigio Women and Children's Concerns Desk, said the boys were afraid to go home.

After they reached the house, the father reportedly gave them breakfast. After they ate, he told them to get inside the two sacks and both were hanged from a beam in their house.

They were left there until noon, which alarmed the neighbors and led them to report the matter to barangay officials.

The boys were placed under the custody of a barangay official while their father was taken to the San Remigio Police Station and detained.

Police filed a case for child abuse against him and are waiting for the complete documents so the boys can be transferred to the care of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Montañez said the boys still acknowledged their father by kissing his hand but did not talk much.

The man is separated from the boys' mother and has custody of both children.

He reportedly got so angry that they abandoned their chores and claimed he had enough. Asked what his offense was that landed him at the penal colony in Palawan, Montañez said the man did not tell her.

Arroyo visits Cebu today to tour Asiatown IT Park

Ten days after her first visit to Cebu for this year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be here today for the President's Cyber Corridor Tour at the Asiatown IT Park in Lahug, Cebu City.

Stable power supply during elections assured

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines and Cebu Energy Development Corporation, along with other major players in the power industry, assured that there will be a stable power supply during the May elections.

Carmen mayor gets police escorts after death threat

The mayor of Carmen town, Sonia Pua, was provided two police escorts after she personally went to the office of Cebu Provincial Police Office chief Sr. Supt. Erson Digal yesterday morning to ask for protection after allegedly received a death threat.

Lapu yields to Comelec control

AS he appealed calm from his supporters in Pangan-an islet Mayor Arturo Radaza took a sudden change of heart by saying he now favors a Comelec control in Lapu-Lapu City.

Comelec: Signal jammers should be registered

The Commission on Election (Comelec) is planning to have all signal-jamming devices in the country registered as part of its efforts to keep the May 10 automated elections free from any form of electronic disruption.

Escudero urges Comelec to decide if automation still possible

Senator Francis Escudero on Tuesday called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to decide if it could still proceed with full automation in the May polls amid revelation cell phone jammers could disrupt the transmission of ballot results.

BOC deploys agents vs signal jammers, gets flak for 'sleeping' on job

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) may have announced the deployment of intelligence agents to verify the entry of signal-jamming devices that threaten transmission of poll results in May, but a group criticized the agency on Tuesday for apparently sleeping on its job.

Comelec makes last-minute changes on ballot design

Just a few days before the printing of the official ballots begin, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday said that they have decided to change the layout of the ballots to make it shorter.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said the Comelec en banc has approved a proposal to group the names of the candidates in the ballot by position horizontally, instead of listing them vertically as earlier recommended. 

"This is a way to have a better ballot as compared to the previous design. The first design was simple, it improved," he said, adding that the decision was based on the suggestions of technical personnel of the poll body and poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM.

The printing of the ballots to be used in the May 2010 polls will commence on Sunday, February 7.

It was originally scheduled to begin on January 25 but was later moved to January 30, then to 31, because of pending disqualification cases with the Comelec. But on Monday, Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said that the printing will be further delayed by one more week still due to unresolved cases pending with the poll body.

A photo of the OLD BALLOT LAYOUTwhere the candidates are grouped by position vertically. - Comelec photo
(Click the documents for a larger view)
In a separate interview, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said they cannot immediately give out a copy of the new ballot design because the sample ballots they have contain the official list of candidates. 

"We will prepare a mockup for the media as soon as possible," he said.

But Larrazabal said that the new design will maximize the unused space on the ballot. "The design is a more efficient distribution of the names of the candidates and political parties to maximize the space of the ballot face," he said.

Not informed

However, Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, told reporters in a chance interview that they were not informed by the Comelec about the change in ballot layout.

"They decided by themselves. Nauna po kayong nakaalam (You were even first to find out)," Casiple said.

Jimenez, for his part, admitted that they will have to work "double time" to inform the voters about the new layout because all the training ballots they have been using up until now have all been the old design.

"We will just have to double time on informing the public on the new shape of the ballot," he said, adding that they will publish the new look of the ballots on newspaper ads once they have been printed.

Shading the oval

He added that what's important is educating the voters to properly shade the oval beside the names of the candidates so that their votes will be counted. "But it (the new layout) is really not that critical because what we are teaching the people is how to shade the oval," he said.

Jimenez that the ballot will still be about 8 ½ inches wide and 26 inches long.

He said that the ballot will still be divided into sections that will be delineated by a colored border. The sections will be colored blue for president, vice president, congressmen, provincial governor, and councilors; and green for senators, party-list groups, provincial board members, and municipal mayors.

The text in the ballot will remain black and the background white.

To lessen the text on the ballot, the Comelec will put only the acronyms of participating party-list groups and their corresponding number. The numbers will be pre-released so that the groups can use it in their campaign.

PNP chief irked over cops who violate gun ban

Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa warned Tuesday that all police commanders and officials will be held liable for their subordinates who are caught violating the election gun ban.

Villar shows up at Senate, faces foes

(UPDATE 2) Senator Manny Villar pulled a surprise on Tuesday when he suddenly showed up at the Senate to face the charges against him over the C-5 road project controversy.

LP needs funds to boost sagging Aquino campaign

With dips in survey ratings of Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, the Liberal Party (LP) says it needs more funds to prop up the image of its standard-bearer.

Aquino partymate pushes for Luisita land distribution

Despite her being a guest senatorial candidate in the Liberal Party where Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino is its standard bearer, Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros remains unequivocal in her position that the vast Hacienda Luisita estate should be distributed to the farmers under RA 9700 or the Carper Law.

Roxas vows to open personal finances if he wins in May

Senator Mar Roxas has promised to open his personal finances should he win in the vice presidential race.

Teodoro in double digits but Aquino still leads—poll

Administration presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro has jumped into double digit figures for the first time, according to a recent election survey that also showed Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III still on top and colleague Manny Villar not far behind.

Madrigal calls Villar 'evil,' 'corrupt'

Had she not joined the presidential race, Senator Ma. Ana Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal would be supporting the candidacy of either Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III or environmentalist Jesus Nicanor "Nick" Perlas.

Lacson flew to HK on Jan 5 - Immigration chief

Senator Panfilo Lacson left the country for Hong Kong on January 5, two days before he was charged with double murder in connection with the killings of publicist Salvador 'Bubby' Dacer and driver Emmanuel Corbito, Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan said on Tuesday.

Lacson left for 'personal safety and security'

Breaking his silence, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson confirmed Tuesday that he left the country for fear of his "own personal safety and security."

Lacson a 'tourist,' not 'fugitive' yet–justice chief

Senator Panfilo Lacson is not yet considered a fugitive from justice even if he has gone abroad while facing double murder charges, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Lacson placed on immigration watchlist

The Bureau of Immigration has placed Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson under its watchlist immediately after a case was filed against him for the killings of publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, Commissioner Marcelino Libanan disclosed.

Jinggoy to Lacson: Come out and face the music

Senate Pro Tempore Jose 'Jinggoy' Estrada on Tuesday called on Senator Panfilo Lacson, who is now out of the country, to "come out" and "face the music" in connection with the double murder charges filed against him.

Buluan vice exec bares slay plot, escape for Andal Jr.

Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu bared what he called was a "grand plan" by the powerful Ampatuans to assassinate him and extract Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. from jail.

Ampatuan lawyer slams chief justice's link to Mangudadatu

Is the Free Masonry Brotherhood the link between Chief Justice Reynato Puno and the Mangudadatus?

Rebellion case vs Ampatuans raffled off to QC judge

(UPDATE) The rebellion case filed against the Ampatuan clan has been raffled off to Judge Vivencio Baclig of QC regional trial court Branch 77.

Cops to rescue 2 Chinese kidnapped in Basilan

Police in Basilan are preparing rescue operations for two Chinese nationals believed to have been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf.

Soldier killed in Basilan landmine blast

A soldier died and eight others were wounded in a landmine explosion in Basilan province before noon Tuesday, the provincial police chief said.

1,184 new elementary teachers in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Palawan

A total of 1,184 out the 2,656 (44.58 percent) aspirants passed the licensure exams for elementary teachers held last October in the provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Palawan, according to the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC).

RH bill dead in House . . . for now

The House of Representatives has no plans of tackling the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill in the remaining two days before Congress adjourns its sessions for the official start of the campaign period for the May elections.

Senate sitting on 1,020 House bills: Nograles

MANILA, Philippines - House Speaker Prospero Nograles is concerned that over a thousand bills passed by the lower House may go to waste because of the Senate's focus on the ethics case against Nacionalista Party presidential bet Senator Manuel Villar.

Travel expenses above board, Trillanes camp insists

The office of detained Senator Antonio Trillanes IV defended Tuesday the P247,404 in local travel expenses it incurred in 2008 by his staff, insisting all were above board.

Father kills 7-month-old daughter, attacks wife and relatives

MANILA, Philippines - A 24-year-old father stabbed dead his own baby girl with a chisel inside their home in Hinigaran, Negros Occidental at past noon Monday.

The father identified as Joebert Mana-ay, of Sitio Balabag, Barangay Candumarao, is suffering from a mental disorder.

Bernus said 7-month-old Kin-Kin was asleep when her father stabbed her with the chisel.

He said that after the baby, the suspect turned to his wife, Gene, and attacked her with the same chisel. The wife, however, was able to escape the attack.

The local police chief said that suspect also attacked his 3 nephews -- Frederick, John and Francis -- but 2 of their relatives were able to rescue the children and knock down Mana-ay with a wood.

The suspect has been brought to the Hinigaran Police Station. Parricide cases are being readied against him.

Cement prices seen stabilizing

MANILA, Philippines - Cement prices are stabilizing, the trade department yesterday said, as several manufacturers have either backtracked on plans to raise prices or are being made to explain reported cases of overcharging.

4 Filipino peacekeepers home from Haiti

The remains of the four Filipino peacekeepers who died in last month's deadly earthquake in Haiti arrived Tuesday morning.

UN says armed group attacked Haiti food convoy

GENEVA - The United Nations says the security situation in Haiti is "stable but potentially volatile" in the wake of last month's earthquake.

Star-studded Haiti charity single launched

LONDON—A star-studded charity single for Haiti had its first airplay Tuesday, with Kylie Minogue, Rod Stewart, Robbie Williams and Susan Boyle among those teaming up to help quake victims.

China warns Obama not to meet Dalai Lama

China on Tuesday warned US President Barack Obama against meeting the Dalai Lama, saying it would "seriously undermine" Sino-US ties—the latest salvo in an escalating row between the two powers.

Cancer deaths may reach 17M by 2030—WHO

Cancer deaths worldwide would more than double in the next 20 years if people do not change their lifestyles, according to the World Health Organization.

Pacquiao on Floyd: Not angry, just disappointed

MANILA, Philippines – Seven-time world champion Manny Pacquiao is not mad but disappointed over Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s recent statement blaming him for their scuttled March 13 fight.  

Gorres wishes Pinoy Power 3 fighters good luck

Pinoys in Vegas raise $8,000 for Gorres MANILA, Philippines – Fallen boxer ZC Oliveros "the Dream" Gorres declared his all-out support for his fellow Filipinos who will take on Latino foes in Pinoy Power 3 in Las Vegas next month.

'Bata' named Billiard Player of the Decade

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino pool maestro Efren "Bata" Reyes continued winning accolades for the Philippines as he was named by the United States Billiard Media Association (USBMA) as the "Player of the Decade".

Bryant makes history but Lakers lose to Grizzlies

MEMPHIS – Kobe Bryant scored 44 points to become the Los Angeles' all-time scoring leader but it wasn't enough for the victory as the Lakers wrapped up their road trip with a 95-93 loss to Memphis on Monday.

Gretchen Barretto in love again

MANILA, Philippines –Gretchen Barretto's relationship with long-time partner tycoon Antonio "Tonyboy" Cojuangco has always been rocky and controversial. In the past years, their fights and rumored separation kept landing on the gossip pages.

Is Charice disobeying her mom?

by by Reyma Buan-Deveza,
MANILA, Philippines – International singing sensation Charice on Tuesday defended her mother, Raquel Pempengco, from accusations that she is meddling too much in her daughter's personal affairs.

One in three Taiwanese women wants new husbands

TAIPEI- One in three Taiwanese women would marry other men if they were given a second chance in life, according to a survey published Tuesday, amid warnings that the island was facing an "infidelity crisis."

Indonesian court clears boy of bee prank

by Agence France-Presse
SURABAYA, Indonesia – An Indonesian schoolboy was cleared of serious abuse charges on Monday for stinging a female classmate with a bee, a "crime" that took the country's legal system a year to resolve.

'Avatar', 'The Hurt Locker' top Oscar nominations

BEVERLY HILLS—Science-fiction epic "Avatar" and gritty Iraq war drama "The Hurt Locker" will battle for supremacy at the Oscars after topping the nominations with nine nods each here Tuesday.

James Cameron's "Avatar" -- the most expensive movie ever made and the highest grossing film of all time -- picked up a slew of nominations including best picture and best director.

The low budget "The Hurt Locker" earned nine nominations including a nod for director Kathryn Bigelow -- Cameron's ex-wife -- as well as best picture, best actor and best original screenplay.

Tuesday's nominations were released in a dawn announcement at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills attended by Hollywood star Anne Hathaway.

Bigelow is only the fourth woman ever to be nominated for directing and the first since Sofia Coppola received a nod for "Lost in Translation" in 2003. No woman director has ever won the Oscars top prize.

However "The Hurt Locker," a tense thriller about a US army bomb disposal squad operating in Iraq, has emerged as the favorite to land the Oscars top best picture prize when the 82nd Academy Awards are presented on March 7.

Bigelow's film has already won a slew of awards this year which are regarded as reliable indicators of likely Oscars success.

This year's best picture race was expanded to 10 films by the Academy in a move analysts have said was intended to boost television ratings for the awards show.

Vying for the best picture race alongside "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker" are Quentin Tarantino's bloody World War II revenge film "Inglourious Basterds," which weighed in with eight nominations.

It was followed by the independent "Precious," about the struggles of an illiterate abused teenager, which scored six nominations, including best picture and best director.

Other films in the best picture race include "District 9," South African director Neill Blomkamp's dazzling science-fiction film about aliens stranded in a Johannesburg township, and "Up," Pixar's charming animated film about a crotchety widower who ties balloons to his house and floats to South America.

It is the only second time in Oscars history that an animated film has made it into the best picture race following Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" in 1992.

Other best picture nominees included British drama "An Education," recession-era dramedy "Up In the Air", Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man," and the Sandra Bullock film "The Blind Side."

There were few major surprises in the acting nominations, where Jeff Bridges and Bullock are widely tipped to win the best actor and actress honors after dominating this year's awards circuit.

Bridges was nominated for his performance as a washed-up country singer in "Crazy Heart." Other nominees included George Clooney for "Up In the Air," Colin Firth for "A Single Man," Morgan Freeman for "Invictus," and Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker."

Bullock's rivals for best actress include veteran Meryl Streep -- picking up her record 16th nomination for "Julie and Julia." Other nominees included Britain's Helen Mirren for "The Last Station," Gabby Sidibe for "Precious" and Carey Mulligan for "An Education."

In the best supporting actress category, Mo'Nique is expected to prevail for her powerful performance as an abusive parent in "Precious." She faces competition from last year's winner Penelope Cruz, nominated again for "Nine," and Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Crazy Heart."

Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick round out the nominees for their performances in "Up In the Air."

As expected, Christoph Waltz was nominated in the best supporting actor category for "Inglourious Basterds," along with Matt Damon for "Invictus," Woody Harrelson for "The Messenger," Christopher Plummer for "The Last Station," and Stanley Tucci for "The Lovely Bones."

In the race for best foreign language film, Germany's "The White Ribbon" was nominated along with France's "Un Prophete" and Israel's "Ajami."

South America was well represented, with Peru's "The Milk of Sorrow," and Argentina's "El Secreto de Sus Ojos."

S. Korea, Japan have world's fastest Internet links

East Asian countries led by South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan are the best wired in the world with the highest number of fast broadband connections to the Internet, a recent report has found.

Pagasa: Major planets visible in February

Stargazing enthusiasts may have a grand time in February as the major planets in the Solar System will be visible in the night sky, state astronomers said.

Phivolcs: Magnitude-4.7 quake rocks Surigao area

A magnitude-4.7 quake rocked the Surigao area in Mindanao Tuesday night, but state seismologists said there was no initial report of casualty or damage.

Inventor unveils $7,000 talking sex robot

by By Brandon Griggs, CNN
Las Vegas, Nevada -- To some men, she might seem like the perfect woman: She's a willowy 5 feet 7 and 120 pounds. And she'll have sex whenever you please -- as long as her battery doesn't run out.

Meet Roxxxy, who may be the world's most sophisticated talking female sex robot. For $7,000 (about P320,000), she's all yours.

"She doesn't vacuum or cook, but she does almost everything else," said her inventor, Douglas Hines, who unveiled Roxxxy last month at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Lifelike dolls, artificial sex organs and sex-chat phone lines have been keeping the lonely company for decades but Roxxxy takes virtual companionship to a new level.

Powered by a computer under her soft silicone "skin," she employs voice-recognition and speech-synthesis software to answer questions and carry on conversations.

She even comes loaded with five distinct "personalities," from Frigid Farrah to Wild Wendy, that can be programmed to suit customers' preferences.

"There's a tremendous need for this kind of product," said Hines, a computer scientist and former Bell Labs engineer.

Roxxxy won't be available for delivery for several months, but Hines is taking pre-orders through his Web site,, where thousands of men have signed up.

"They're like, 'I can't wait to meet her,' " Hines said. "It's almost like the anticipation of a first date."

Women demand

Women have inquired about ordering a sex robot, too. Hines says a female sex therapist even contacted him about buying one for her patients.

Roxxxy has been like catnip to talk-show hosts since her debut at AEE, the largest porn-industry convention in the country.

In a recent monologue, Jay Leno expressed amazement that a sex robot could carry on lifelike conversations and express realistic emotions. "Luckily, guys," he joked, "there's a button that turns that off."

Curious conventioneers packed Hines' AEE booth last month in Las Vegas, asking questions and stroking Roxxxy's skin as she sat on a couch in a black negligee.

"Roxxxy generated a lot of buzz at AEE," said Grace Lee, spokeswoman for the porn-industry convention. "The prevailing sentiment of everyone I talked to about Roxxxy is 'version 1.0,' but people were fascinated by the concept, and it caused them to rethink the possibilities of 'sex toys.' "

Artificial intelligence

Hines, a self-professed happily married man from Lincoln Park, New Jersey, says he spent more than 3 years developing the robot after trying to find a marketable application for his artificial-intelligence technology.

Roxxxy's body is made from hypoallergenic silicone -- the kind of stuff in prosthetic limbs -- molded over a rigid skeleton.

She cannot move on her own but can be contorted into almost any natural position. To create her shape, a female model spent a week posing for a series of molds.

The robot runs on a self-contained battery that lasts about three hours on one charge, Hines says.

Customers can recharge Roxxxy with an electrical cord that plugs into her back. A motor in her chest pumps heated air through a tube that winds through the robot's body, which Hines says keeps her warm to the touch.

Roxxxy also has sensors in her hands and genital areas -- yes, she is anatomically correct -- that will trigger vocal responses from her when touched. She even shudders to simulate orgasm.

When someone speaks to Roxxxy, her computer converts the words to text and then uses pattern-recognition software to match them against a database containing hundreds of appropriate responses.

The robot then answers aloud -- her prerecorded "voice" is supplied by an unnamed radio host -- through a loudspeaker hidden under her wig.

"Everything you say to her is processed. It's very near real time, almost without delay," Hines said of the dynamics of human-Roxxxy conversation.

"To make it as realistic as possible, she has different dialogue at different times. She talks in her sleep. She even snores." (The snoring feature can be turned off, he says.)


Roxxxy understands and speaks only English for now, but Hines' True Companion company is developing Japanese and Spanish versions.

For an extra fee, he'll also record customizable dialogue and phrases for each client, which means Roxxxy could talk to you about NASCAR, say, or the intricacies of politics in the Middle East.

Hines believes that Roxxxy is a step above other love dolls -- the similar but mute RealDoll costs about $5,500 -- because her conversational abilities provide something close to emotional companionship.

His customer base? Shy, awkward or older men who "have trouble meeting girls," he says.

In an industry known for pushing the technological envelope, observers are curious about how Roxxxy will fare in the marketplace.

"Is this a viable product? Yes," said Sherri Shaulis, an editor at Adult Video News, a trade magazine for the pornographic industry. "There's a market for it. Granted, it's a very small market."

Maybe not. TrueCompanion claims that more than 4,000 men have placed pre-orders for Roxxxy robots, and another 20,000 or so have requested information about the product.

TrueCompanion also is developing a male sex robot, named Rocky.

"There's really nothing like this on the market," said Hines, who speaks of his unique creation with what seems like genuine affection. "Whenever she's out in public, everyone wants to talk to her and pose for pictures. It's so cute."

Stephen Leacock  - "I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so."

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