Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Elderly man punches teen passenger for refusing to shut off phone.

From NY Daily News:
Russell Miller, 68, has been charged with misdemeanor battery after a Southwest flight crew and fellow plane passengers say he socked a teen who hadn't turned off his iPhone as the Las Vegas to Boise flight began its descent.

Miller defended the swipe, telling police he "felt he was protecting the entire plane and its occupants."

But the plane's crew and local authorities felt otherwise, and Miller was arrested with the plane landed.

The 15-year-old passenger was playing games and listening to music when flight attendants announced that all electronic devices should be turned off for the plane's approach to land, Boise's reports.

Miller took matters into his own hands when the teen sitting in front of him failed to switch off his iPhone, punching him in the arm.

"He punched him so hard there was a mark on the teen's arm .... That gave us probable cause to believe the reports from the other passengers," police Lt. Kent Lipple told KBOI2.

Lipple was one of several law enforcement officials called to the scene to await the plane's arrival to arrest Miller, who was booked into a Boise jail.

The teen, who was not identified, is not a Boise resident and was flying alone, according to KBOI2.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Koran written in Saddam Hussein's blood poses dilemma.

This sounds like a Sam Raimi movie in the making. From the Guardian, sent in by Coozer-Phile Duff.

It was etched in the blood of a dictator in a ghoulish bid for piety. Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur'an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight - locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant's legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.

The vault in the vast mosque in Baghdad has remained locked for the past three years, keeping the 114 chapters of the Muslim holy book out of sight - and mind - while those who run Iraq have painstakingly processed the other cultural remnants of 30 years of Saddam and the Ba'ath party.

"What is in here is priceless, worth absolutely millions of dollars," said Sheikh Ahmed al-Samarrai, head of Iraq's Sunni Endowment fund, standing near the towering minarets of the west Baghdad mosque that Saddam named "the Mother of All Battles". Behind him is the infamous Blood Qur'an, written in Saddam's own blood.

Even to get to this point - the last step before entering the forbidden vault - has been a tortuous process.

On one flank had been the government, doing all it could to prevent access. The Shia-led regime is highly sensitive to the re-emergence of any symbols that might lionise the remnants of the Ba'athist rank and file, which still orchestrates bombings and assassinations every few days.

And then there are the Sunnis themselves, who are fearful of government retribution if they open the doors and of divine disapproval if they treat this particularly gruesome volume of the Qur'an with the reverence of a holy book.

"It was wrong to do what he did, to write it in blood," says Sheikh Samarrai. "It is haraam [forbidden]."

Despite this, Sammarie says he acted as the document's protector during the mayhem that followed the US-led invasion in 2003, hiding pages in his house and moving others among the homes of his relatives.

"I knew this would be much sought after and we made the decision to protect it. But to see this now is not easy. There are three keys and none of them are held in the one place. I have one, the police chief in the area has another and there is a third in another part of Baghdad. There has to be a decision of a committee to let you in."

Spider-Man falls into orchestra pit.

Hope the guy is okay, but who else thinks Kraven is sabotaging this thing? From CNN:
A performer was injured in a fall during a performance of the stage musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" in New York on Monday night, a representative of the show said.

Christopher Tierney, 31, fell 20 to 30 feet and is listed in serious condition, said Bellevue Hospital spokesman Steven Bohlen.

Jonathan Dealwis, a tourist from New Zealand who was in the audience, told CNN the person portraying Spider-Man in the scene fell "about six meters," or about 20 feet.

Reeve Carney is the actor who normally plays Spider-Man, but nine people perform Spider-Man's stunts when the character is masked, show spokesman Jaron Caldwell said. He did not confirm who the injured performer is.

Dealwis said the accident happened near the end of the show.

"Spider-Man was on a bridge, and Mary Jane was dangling from it," Dealwis said. "She drops down, as is meant to happen. Spider-Man went to the end of the bridge there. I think he was meant to sort of swoop over there, but he just fell off. ... The harness, you could see it just flick off his back and fly backward."

Afterward, Dealwis said, "it just went black, and the producer came on and said we're going to pause for a moment. You could hear Mary Jane weeping."

A producer then came by and said the show was over, Dealwis said. Some people "clapped awkwardly," and one girl "laughed mockingly," drawing "disapproving glances" from others.

Dealwis said the performer was wheeled away in a neck brace and was alert when he was taken to Bellevue hospital.

Rick Miramontez, another spokesman for the show, issued a statement confirming that the performer fell from a platform and the show was stopped.

"All signs were good as he was taken to the hospital for observation," Miramontez said.

The show, with music and lyrics by U2's Bono and The Edge, is the most expensive in Broadway history by a significant margin, but production has been beset by cast injuries and technical problems.

Monday night's performance was a preview -- the show is not officially open yet. Opening has been delayed repeatedly.

Caldwell declined to say whether the next scheduled performance will take place as planned.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ultra-rare lunar eclipse tomorrow.

From AOL News:
As many as 1.5 billion people worldwide will be able to watch when the Earth's shadow creeps across the moon's surface early Tuesday morning, the first time in hundreds of years that a lunar eclipse will fall on the winter solstice.

With the full moon high in the winter sky, the lunar eclipse will be visible from four continents, with the best views from North America and Central America if weather permits, scientists say.

"It's a really democratic event," Andrew Fraknoi, the chairman of astronomy at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "because you don't need an expensive telescope or any other sophisticated equipment to enjoy the spectacle -- just your eyes or, if you like, a pair of binoculars."

Unlike a solar eclipse, eclipses of the moon can usually be observed anywhere in the hemisphere where the moon is above the horizon.

This particular lunar eclipse also may be seen in totality from northern and western Europe, some of northeast Asia, Hawaii and New Zealand, according to In total, some 1.5 billion people may have a chance to see the full eclipse, the website reported.

Total lunar eclipses during winter in the northern hemisphere are fairly common, NASA says. However, a lunar eclipse falling precisely on the date of the solstice is quite rare.

Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory inspected a list of eclipses going back 2000 years for NASA.

"Since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, and that is 1638 DEC 21," Chester said, according to NASA. "Fortunately we won't have to wait 372 years for the next one ... that will be on 2094 DEC 21."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

UK's chocolate bars shrinking due to cost.

From Daily Mail:
Some of the biggest confectionery firms are shrinking their biggest brands to protect profits.

Companies such as Nestle and Cadburys have reduced the size of some of their most popular brands at the same time as increasing prices to shelter profits from the rise in VAT, looming in January.

Poundland offers a typical example. Chief Executive Jim McCarthy said he’s agreed to cut the size of Toblerones by one triangle so he can keep the price at £1.

Dairy Milk bars will lose a couple of chunks in February, following to the reduction in the weight of a bag of Maltezers from 140g to 120g.

Bourneville, which was called a Scrooge for removing the expensive chocolates from tubs of Heros two years ago, has taken more cost-cutting steps, under its new owner, Kraft.

A Cadburys spokesman claimed they increasing the price of packs due to rising ingredient costs, according to the Guardian.

Mintel analyst David Jago said the first wave of changes in confectionary value went largely unnoticed. Changes in the sizes of bars such as Mars and Twix were not obvious to most consumers, but now that companies are changing the price of bars as well, people are seeing a change.

Jago said the changes are a tactic being used by confectionary companies to keep profit margins stable when VAT is expected to rise and the price of sugar and cocoa are also increasing.

He also said manufacturers had been asked to alter the size of packs to help tackle the obesity epidemic.

The cost of chocolate has been rising since 2007 when cocoa prices hit a 33-year high over £2700 a tonne.

Customers are already seeing price rises at newsagents. Cadburys and Nestle have boosted recommended retail prices of Kit Kat, Yorkie, Wispa and Dairy Milk by a noticeable 7% – more than twice the rate of inflation.

A Nestle spokesman said the company ‘occasionally’ made changes to prices due to a change in formation or packaging.

The Office for National Statistics has said that food inflation is nearly 5%, in part due to Russia’s ban on grain and wheat exports following the summer droughts.

Dead: Captain Beefheart.

RIP Zig Zag Wanderer... From UPI:
TRINIDAD, Calif., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Accolades poured in Saturday for Don Van Vliet, the avant-garde rocker known as Captain Beefheart, after his death in Northern California at the age of 69.

Van Vliet died Friday of complications from multiple sclerosis while living and working as a successful painter in the small town of Trinidad, according to Gordon VeneKlasen, a partner in the New York gallery where Van Vliet often showed his paintings.

There was no immediate word on memorial services; however Van Vliet was never forgotten by music critics and rock historians. His eccentric album with the Magic Band called "Trout Mask Replica" is considered a classic.

The New York Times said Saturday that Captain Beefheart's music career, which stretched from 1966 to 1982, put together a unique body of work that had a strong influence on the punk and new wave generations.

Van Vliet had little in the way of formal musical training, but he fell in with fellow Southern Californian Frank Zappa in the 1960s, adopted the name Captain Beefheart and with the Magic Band. The Times said his singing style resembled blues great Howlin' Wolf: "a deep, rough-riding moan turned up into swooped falsettos at the end of lines, pinched and bellowing and sounding as if it caused pain.

Van Vliet quit the music business in 1982 after releasing "Ice Cream Crow" and devoted his time to his painting while living a reclusive lifestyle.

ATM spits out gold.

From Jen C! Item!
BOCA RATON, Fla. — Shoppers who are looking for something sparkly to put under the Christmas tree can skip the jewelry and go straight to the source: an ATM that dispenses shiny 24-carat gold bars and coins.

A German company installed the machine Friday at an upscale mall in Boca Raton, a South Florida paradise of palm trees, pink buildings and wealthy retirees.

Thomas Geissler, CEO of Ex Oriente Lux and inventor of the Gold To Go machines, says the majority of buyers will be walk-ups enamored by the novelty. But he says they're also convenient for more serious investors looking to bypass the hassle of buying gold at pawn shops and over the Internet.

"Instead of buying flowers or chocolates, which is gone after two or three minutes, this will stay for the next few hundreds years," Geissler told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The company installed its first machine at Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace hotel in May and followed up with gold ATMs in Germany, Spain and Italy. Geissler said they plan to unroll a few hundred machines worldwide in 2011. He said the Abu Dhabi machine has been so popular it has to be restocked every two days.

A bank in Vietnam installed its own brand of the machines in a country with a much poorer population but one that values gold more than paper money.

The gold-leaf-covered machine at Boca Raton's Town Center Mall sits outside a gourmet chocolate store and works much like the cash ATM beside it. Shoppers insert cash or credit cards and use a computer touch-screen to choose the weight and style they want. The machine spits out the gold in a classy black box with a tamperproof seal.

Each machine, manufactured in Germany, carries about 320 pieces of different-sized bars and coins. Prices are refigured automatically every 10 minutes to reflect market fluctuations. On Friday, a two-gram piece cost about $122, including packaging, certification and a 5 percent markup. An ounce cost about $1,442.

Buyer beware: A gram of the heavy metal is much smaller than you think, about the size of a fingernail. An ounce is a little larger than a quarter.

Caterpillar whistles to ward off birds.

From Jen K. Item!
The walnut sphinx caterpillar has a trick up its sleeve -- er, side -- to keep birds from chomping on it. The clever bug can make an odd whistling sound, which startles birds enough that they usually just leave it alone. Researchers didn't know how it managed to make this sound, so they set up cameras and began experimenting. The results are rather strange.

Live Science reports that neuroethologist Jayne Yack at Carleton University in Ottawa has for the first time have revealed that walnut sphinx caterpillars (Amorpha juglandis) can make music from their sides.

The team used high-speed videos, latex to cover each pair of the caterpillar's eight sets of abdomina spiracles, or breathing holes, and a pair of pincers. They systematically tried out each set of holes and discovered it's the eighth set that makes the noise when the caterpillar contracts its body, forcing air through the holes to whistles when it senses a threat. The whistles can last up to four seconds each, and range in frequencies from what is audible to humans all the way up to ultrasound.

When they introduced a bird into the situation -- a yellow warbler that coexists in the same habitat as these bugs -- they found the sound definitely works to startle the birds into going away.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rush snubbed.

They let in boxcar hobo Tom Waits and yet Rush still snubbed? Shenanigans, I say. Although I do love Tom Waits. From CBS:
The 2011 class of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced Tuesday, and Alice Cooper and Neil Diamond were among the rockers chosen.

Darlene Love also made the list, along with New Orleans musician Dr. John and singer-songwriter Tom Waits.

Piano man Leon Russell was honored with a musical excellence award, previously the sideman category. Executives Jac Holzman and Art Rupe were given the Ahmet Ertegun Awards.

Others will have to try again next year. Bon Jovi, nominated for the first time, was turned away from music's prestigious club, as was LL Cool J, the J. Geils Band, the Beastie Boys, Donna Summer and more.

Diamond, whose hits include "Sweet Caroline," had been eligible for the Rock Hall for several years. But he was never really worried about getting an invitation.

"I thought about it occasionally, but I kind of figured they'd get around to me at some point," he said in a phone interview.

Like Diamond, Cooper said he hadn't been anxiously waiting for his Rock Hall invite, though his name has been mentioned in conjunction with the institution for years.

"You know it crosses your mind, but then you think of all the guys who aren't in there, some of them before you, and you go, 'Wow.' ... You realize that it's a waiting game," the heavy metal rocker, known for his dark eyeliner and shaggy hair, said in a phone interview. "I don't think you sit around holding your breath on it."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Terrible Hairy Fly rediscovered in Kenya.

From BBC News:
Scientists have rediscovered a bizarre insect in Kenya, collecting the first Terrible Hairy Fly specimen since 1948.

Since then, at least half a dozen expeditions have visited its only known habitat - a rock cleft in an area east of Nairobi - in search of the fly.

Two insect specialists recently spotted the 1cm-long insect, known as Mormotomyia hirsuta, living on the 20m-high rock.

They point out that it looks more like a spider with hairy legs.

The fly was found by Dr Robert Copeland and Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs during an expedition led by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

"The rediscovery of the species, which has been collected on only two occasions before, in 1933 and 1948, has caused excitement in insect museums world-wide," the team members said in a statement.

Unable to fly and partial to breeding in bat faeces, the fly is thought to live only in the dank, bat-filled cleft of the isolated rock in Kenya's Ukazi Hills.

It also has non-functional wings that resemble miniature belt-straps, and tiny eyes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jumping squid caught on camera.

Check out the photos here.
These remarkable photos show one of the most bizarre sights in the natural world.

A British photographer captured a particular type of squid which use jet propulsion to leap out of the sea and fly up to 65ft.

The flying squid swim in shoals and leap from the surface of the water and are often mistaken for the more common flying fish.

The squid actually fly looking backwards, with their tentacles dangling behind them and fins acting like wings, keeping them balanced in the air.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Meteor fireball spotted in skies over Britain.

From BBC News:
Stargazers throughout the UK have reported seeing a meteor-like streak of light in the darkened skies.

The BBC was contacted by people in Scotland, the Midlands, Wales, and northern and south west England who saw the display at about 1740 GMT.

One witness driving home from work in Coventry said the light was a bit scary because it was so "incredibly bright".

Astronomers said the brightness of the meteor, a chunk of space rock burning up in the atmosphere, was unusual.

Dr David Whitehouse, astronomer and former BBC correspondent, said: "It's a bright meteor called a fireball, extraordinarily bright.

"This a chunk of space rock perhaps the size of your fist, perhaps a bit larger, that is burning up as it comes through our atmosphere at an altitude of 60 or 70 miles or so.

"So it sounds extraordinary if you're very lucky enough to have seen it. It's quite rare."

Dr Edward Bloomer, an astronomer with the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said the fireball was probably part of the Geminids meteor shower, which happens every year, appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini and will peak on 14 December.

"We are passing through the trail of the comet, and the material that's in the tail burns up when it comes into contact with the Earth's atmosphere," he said.

"A fireball is rather exotic and because it is bigger, it glows brighter and takes longer to break up."

Bank of America to pay $137M for defrauding schools, hospitals.

From Raw Story:
Attorneys general from 20 states reached an agreement that will require Bank of America to pay $137.3 million for its part in a bid-rigging scheme, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The financial institution is accused of defrauding state agencies, municipalities, schools districts, hospitals and other non-profit organizations by rigging bids on municipal bond contracts.

According to a notice on its website, the company will pay restitution of $107.8 million to the counterparties affected by the practice and another $25 million to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An additional $4.5 million in legal costs will be paid to state attorneys.

The federal government showed leniency after Bank of America self-reported its potential wrongdoing.

"As previously disclosed, Bank of America was granted amnesty in 2007 by the Department of Justice for self-reporting evidence of possible wrongdoing before the industrywide investigation of these practices began and for continuing to cooperate with the Justice Department's investigation," a statement on Bank of America's website said.

"We are pleased that Bank of America came forward to take responsibility for its conduct and to pay restitution to those harmed by this fraud," Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley told the Boston Herald.

"Our office will continue to pursue others who were involved in the scheme to defraud cities, towns, schools and non-profits in Massachusetts. Today’s settlement and our ongoing investigations are particularly important given the financial constraints that many state entities, municipalities and non-profits are facing in these tough economic times," she said.

"Bank of America's disclosure of wrongdoing and cooperation has led to an aggressive, ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice into anticompetitive activity in the municipal bond derivatives industry," Justice Department antitrust chief Christine Varney said.

"The Division's investigation of this matter continues, and the prosecution of anticompetitive conduct in the financial markets remains our highest priority," she added.

More than a dozen other firms including JPMorgan Chase & Co., UBS AG, and Societe Generale were also noted as unindicted co-conspirators.

The $137.3 million paid by Bank of America is "likely the tip of the iceberg," Andrew Gavil, a law professor at Howard University, told Bloomberg.

"Stay tuned to this channel -- I think you will see a lot more activity in the coming weeks and months," DOJ's Varney told reporters. "We are committed to getting restitution, full restitution, to all the municipalities that were victims of this scheme."

WikiLeaks is expected to disclose a trove of secret information about Bank of America sometime early next year which the site's founder said would reveal "an ecosystem of corruption."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

High school wrestler arrested for legitimate wrestling move.

High school wrestling is so weird. From the Fresno Bee:
The Fresno County District Attorney's Office is having second thoughts about prosecuting a Buchanan High School wrestler for sexual battery.

Preston Hill, 17, is due to go on trial Thursday. Clovis police and the alleged victim said Preston rammed two fingers into the teammate's anus during wrestling practice in July. Preston's attorney says he used a legitimate wrestling move called the "butt drag."

Amid a public uproar over the case that began after The Bee reported it on Sunday, prosecutors met with Preston's attorney on Tuesday to offer a deal: The case would be dismissed if Preston -- who has been expelled from Buchanan -- stayed out of trouble for several months.

Unlike most such deals, it would not require Preston to admit guilt.

But Stephen Quade, who represents Preston, said his client will likely reject the offer because he didn't do anything wrong.

Quade said he is prepared to go to trial.

Complicating the case is an apparent disagreement within the District Attorney's Office about how to proceed.

A person with detailed knowledge of the case, speaking on condition of anonymity, said prosecutor Elana Smith is resisting instructions from her boss, District Attorney Elizabeth Egan, to drop the case.

Egan declined to comment Tuesday. Smith could not be reached.

But the source said Smith, a 12-year-veteran of the District Attorney's Office, is willing to stake her reputation -- and her job -- on the case. "She believes a crime has been committed, and she won't back down," the source said.

If the case goes to trial, a key issue is whether the conduct meets the legal definition of sexual battery. That could hinge on the question of whether Preston had threatened the boy.

The boy told police that Preston made a threatening gesture -- he inserted two fingers into a circle formed by his other hand -- indicating "he was going to place his fingers up his butt," the police report stated.

Preston has denied making the gesture, and Quade has said no one else saw him doing it. But the source said Smith recently found a witness -- another student -- who can corroborate the 14-year-old's account about the gesture.

Quade said the offer to conditionally dismiss the case came from Assistant District Attorney Lisa Gamoian and Rudy Carrillo, a chief deputy district attorney. Gamoian and Carrillo are Smith's supervisors. Smith was not present at the meeting, he said.

Quade said the offer was better than the one made several months ago, but declined to give details. Preston rejected the earlier offer, Quade said.

The case against Preston has drawn widespread attention because Preston and his parents contend their son, a senior, was using a legitimate wrestling move on the boy, a freshman at Buchanan High.

They said Clovis wrestling coaches taught Preston the move, known as a "butt drag," and that he used the move during practice in front of coaches, teammates and parents.

In general, the butt drag requires a wrestler to grab a rival's butt cheek to get leverage. Local coaches say anal penetration can occur accidentally, but should never be done on purpose. The move is widely used at matches around the country and has been around for decades, authorities say.

Ross Rice, father of the alleged victim, said Preston is a bully who targeted his son because the boy stood up to Preston during an earlier encounter.

Because of the incident, Rice said, Preston's friends continue to tease his son at school. The boy also didn't go out for the wrestling team, his father said.

Rice said Tuesday that Smith contacted him and told him that the trial might be delayed, but she didn't say anything about dropping the case.

"She's a fighter," Rice said. "She's not going to give up on my son.

Man killed in freak gardening accident.

For once, a Darwin Award for someone who's actually from Darwin! Item!
A Darwin man has been killed while lopping a palm tree in his garden.

The 50-year-old man, whose name has not been released, died when the large foxtail palm came crashing down, striking him in the face, the Northern Territory News said.

It is believed the man's body lay unnoticed for several hours before he was found and the alarm was raised.

The freak accident happened at a property at Knuckey Lagoon on Friday. But it took police five days to release news of the death and yesterday they refused to give out any further details. Police Superintendent Daniel Sheen said the accident happened between 2pm and 5.15pm.

"We're not quite sure when (the man) died," Superintendent Sheen said. The man had lived at the 2ha residence for some time.

It is believed the property owner drove past the accident scene earlier in the day but did not see the man's body until later that afternoon. He dialled 000 to alert emergency services and paramedics and police rushed to the scene. But it was too late.

Many of his neighbours yesterday were unaware of the freak tragedy that had unfolded just next door.

The property remained deserted throughout the day.


Health: Quitting smoking may reduce depression.

Yipes: Kinky sex act with knife goes horribly wrong. (Not as bad as it sounds.)

Awesome: Luckiest man alive has whipped cream truck crash outside house - years after chocolate syrup truck crashes his house too!

Health: 4 fun ways to prevent prostate cancer!

Boozalicious: Brits get trapped in pub for 9 days.

Duh: Consumer Reports finds that AT&T is the worst carrier.

Rape victim framed for fake crimes by her attacker, serves 7 months in prison.

From Eyewitness News:
Investigators have arrested three people accused in an elaborate scheme to frame an innocent Far Rockaway woman.

She was accused in May 2010 of impersonating a police officer and robbing victims at gunpoint, but it has turned out to be all a lie.

Within the last week, an informant told the Nassau County DA's office that Seemona Sumasar, 35, had been framed by an ex-boyfriend. Sumasar was being held in the Nassau jail for crimes that never took place, the informant claimed.

After the district attorney's office corroborated the informant's account, Sumasar was released from jail On Thursday.

District Attorney Kathleen Rice said that Jerry Ramrattan, 38, of East Elmhurst, promised to pay off two "witnesses" in Nassau County to lie to authorities that Sumasar, along with a male accomplice, had conducted a number of gunpoint robberies while Sumasar and the accomplice impersonated police officers.

Investigators then questioned each witness, who they say separately confessed that Ramrattan promised to pay them to report false incidents regarding Sumasar. Ramrattan coached the false witnesses to give police partial license plate numbers of cars Sumasar was known to drive and to identify her in a photo array.

The witnesses, Terrell Lovell and Luz Johnson were arrested on Wednesday and charged with perjury.

According to Rice, Ramrattan also promised to pay off a witness in Queens to falsely report that Sumasar had robbed him at gunpoint back in September 2009 while in Jamaica, Queens. After corroborating the informant's story, the Nassau County DA's office immediately contacted Sumasar's defense counsel and the Queens County District Attorney's office to coordinate efforts in clearing her of the charges and setting her free.

Sumasar's lawyer says the motive was intimidation. Sumasar has accused Ramrattan of rape and was preparing to testify at his trial at the time of her arrest.

Ramrattan has been charged with two counts of Perjury in the First Degree; two counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree; two counts of Falsely Reporting an Incident in the Third Degree; two counts of Offering False Instrument; two counts of Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree.

He is being held on $1 million bond or $500,000 cash and returns to court on December 7.

In Nassau County, the false accusations targeting Sumasar began on March 2, 2010, when Lovell reported to police that he had been robbed at gunpoint by two suspects while driving in Inwood. He described the suspects as a woman and a man dressed as police officers. Lovell gave a partial license plate number of the getaway car to police.

Sometime in May 2010 police received an anonymous call from a man who claimed to have been the victim of a crime. The caller stated that he had been robbed at gunpoint by a female and male suspect impersonating police officers. The caller told police that he did not want to formally report the incident, but he did give police a full license plate number of the getaway car. Police traced the plate to Sumasar's sister, but when police showed Lovell a photo of the sister, he did not identify her as the person who robbed him in March.

On May 19, Johnson reported to police that she was robbed at gunpoint by two suspects impersonating police officers while she was driving in Inwood. Johnson gave police a full license plate number and also reported that some mail with her New Jersey address, along with a spare car key, had been taken by the suspects during the robbery.

Two days later Johnson called Nassau County Police from her New Jersey home to report that someone driving a black Nissan had attempted to steal her car. She reported the license plate number of the Nissan to police, who traced the car to Devon McDonald, Sumasar's boyfriend. Police believed that Sumasar had a connection to both cars that had been reported being used in the robberies, as well as the attempted car theft in New Jersey involving the black Nissan.

Sumasar was arrested by Nassau County Police on May 21 after police found her driving the black Nissan. Both Johnson and Lovell identified her in a photo array and Sumasar was charged with two counts of Robbery in the First Degree; two counts of Criminal Use of a Firearm and two counts of Criminal Impersonation and Unlawful Wearing of a Body Vest.

Robots wait tables at new restaurant.

Not only do we have to worry about robots taking our jobs, but now there's the added confusion of how much to tip them... From Orange:
A new restaurant where all of the waitresses are robots has opened in China.

The Dalu Rebot Restaurant, in Jinan, northern China's Shandong Province, has six robot waitresses and can cater for up to 100 diners.

The 21 tables are set in circles and the robots follow a fixed route to serve diners in rotation.

After serving, the robots return to the kitchen to refill their cart for the next round.

Restaurant spokeswoman Wang Xianwei said that all of the waiting on tables was done by robots.

However, the food, mainly the Chinese version of fondue, was prepared by humans in the kitchen.

And people were also employed to welcome customers and explain to them how the restaurant worked.

The restaurant was developed by the Shandong Dalu Science and Technology Company which plans to further develop the concept.

Spokesman Zhang Yongpei said: "Next, we'll develop robots which can climb stairs and help with kitchen chores like washing the dishes.

"And our waitresses will become more sophisticated so they can go direct to a customer's table and even refill diners' drinks."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dick Cheney to be charged with massive bribery.

From Huffington Post:
Nigerian authorities will charge former Vice President Dick Cheney over a bribery scandal that is alleged to involve Halliburton, BusinessWeek reports. An arrest warrant "will be issued and transmitted through Interpol," said Godwin Obla, the prosecuting counsel at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria.

The charges center on an alleged $180 million bribery payment used to secure a $6 billion liquefied natural gas contract. Prosecutors are also looking into international companies Saipem and Technip. Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000, before becoming George W. Bush's running mate. "As the CEO of Halliburton, he has the responsibility for acts that occurred during that period," Obla told the AFP.

Nigeria arrested 12 employees of Halliburton earlier in the week, reports Reuters. The firm's offices in Nigeria were raided by anti-corruption police, although the company said that the detentions "had no legal basis and that its employees had since been freed."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Robbery foiled by bag of empanadas.

Is there nothing empanadas can't do? (Thanks Jen!) From AP:
DEMING, N.M. (AP) — Robbers, beware of clerks wielding pastries.

Police in Deming, N.M., say a clerk foiled a robbery last week when she hit the culprit on the back of the head with a package of empanadas, a type of Latin American pastry.

Police say the masked man didn't say a word when he grabbed the cash register at Amigo's Mexican Food and tried to flee.

Deming police Capt. Brandon Gigante says the man dropped the register when the clerk threw the pastries and hit him.

Barbara Orquiz, who owns Amigo's with her husband, Arnold, says the cash register's cord got caught when the man tried to take it. The clerk saw him grab it, screamed and got him with the empanadas.

Orquiz says the man was covering his head as he ran away.

Narcissism no longer a psychiatric disorder.

Yayy, I'm finally normal! As well as supremely awesome (like, duh). From NY Times:
Narcissists, much to the surprise of many experts, are in the process of becoming an endangered species.

Not that they face imminent extinction — it’s a fate much worse than that. They will still be around, but they will be ignored.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (due out in 2013, and known as DSM-5) has eliminated five of the 10 personality disorders that are listed in the current edition.

Narcissistic personality disorder is the most well-known of the five, and its absence has caused the most stir in professional circles.

Most nonprofessionals have a pretty good sense of what narcissism means, but the formal definition is more precise than the dictionary meaning of the term.

Our everyday picture of a narcissist is that of someone who is very self-involved — the conversation is always about them. While this characterization does apply to people with narcissistic personality disorder, it is too broad. There are many people who are completely self-absorbed who would not qualify for a diagnosis of N.P.D.

The central requirement for N.P.D. is a special kind of self-absorption: a grandiose sense of self, a serious miscalculation of one’s abilities and potential that is often accompanied by fantasies of greatness. It is the difference between two high school baseball players of moderate ability: one is absolutely convinced he’ll be a major-league player, the other is hoping for a college scholarship.

Of course, it would be premature to call the major-league hopeful a narcissist at such an early age, but imagine that same kind of unstoppable, unrealistic attitude 10 or 20 years later.

The second requirement for N.P.D.: since the narcissist is so convinced of his high station (most are men), he automatically expects that others will recognize his superior qualities and will tell him so. This is often referred to as “mirroring.” It’s not enough that he knows he’s great. Others must confirm it as well, and they must do so in the spirit of “vote early, and vote often.”

Finally, the narcissist, who longs for the approval and admiration of others, is often clueless about how things look from someone else’s perspective. Narcissists are very sensitive to being overlooked or slighted in the smallest fashion, but they often fail to recognize when they are doing it to others.

Most of us would agree that this is an easily recognizable profile, and it is a puzzle why the manual’s committee on personality disorders has decided to throw N.P.D. off the bus. Many experts in the field are not happy about it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bees in Brooklyn producing cherry syrup instead of honey.

These little guys need to bee-have! Har har. Oh, my stinging puns! From the NY Times:
Cerise Mayo expected better of her bees. She had raised them right, given them all the best opportunities — acres of urban farmland strewn with fruits and vegetables, a bounty of natural nectar and pollen. Blinded by devotion, she assumed they shared her values: a fidelity to the land, to food sources free of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial food coloring.

And then this. Her bees, the ones she had been raising in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and on Governors Island since May, started coming home to their hives looking suspicious. Of course, it was the foragers — the adventurers, the wild waggle dancers, the social networkers incessantly buzzing about their business — who were showing up with mysterious stripes of color. Where there should have been a touch of gentle amber showing through the membrane of their honey stomachs was instead a garish bright red. The honeycombs, too, were an alarming shade of Robitussin.

“I thought maybe it was coming from some kind of weird tree, maybe a sumac,” said Ms. Mayo, who tends seven hives for Added Value, an education nonprofit in Red Hook. “We were at a loss.”

An acquaintance, only joking, suggested the unthinkable: Maybe the bees were hitting the juice — maraschino cherry juice, that sweet, sticky stuff sloshing around vats at Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Company over on Dikeman Street in Red Hook.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” said Ms. Mayo, a soft-spoken young woman who has long been active in the slow-food movement. She found it particularly hard to believe that the bees would travel all the way from Governors Island to gorge themselves on junk food. “Why would they go to the cherry factory,” she said, “when there’s a lot for them to forage right there on the farm?”

It seems natural, by now, for humans to prefer the unnatural, as if we ourselves had been genetically modified to choose artificially flavored strawberry candy over strawberries, or crunchy orange “cheese” puffs over a piece of actual cheese. But when bees make the same choice, it feels like a betrayal to our sense of how nature should work. Shouldn’t they know better? Or, perhaps, not know enough to know better?

A fellow beekeeper sent samples of the red substance that the bees were producing to an apiculturalist who works for New York State, and that expert, acting as a kind of forensic foodie, found the samples riddled with Red Dye No. 40, the same dye used in the maraschino cherry juice.

No one knows for sure where the bees might have consumed the dye, but neighbors of the Dell’s factory, Ms. Mayo said, reported that bees in unusually high numbers were gathering nearby.

Horror movie set mistaken for "most grisly murder in 35 years."

From Daily Mail:
Firefighters who responded to a hotel blaze stumbled upon a blood-splattered hotel room littered with liquor bottles and even a piece of a scalp.

Police Chief J.R. Blyth, who was called in to investigate, described the discovery at the George Washington Hotel in Pittsburgh 'the most grisly murder scene in his 35 years in law enforcement'.

Detectives had spent eight hours of overtime on the investigation before Chief Blyth realised the blood wasn’t real and that the murder scene was in fact the leftover set of a horror movie filmed two years ago with Corey Haim.

The film called New Terminal Hotel shot a scene in the hotel and the hotel owner decided to leave the room untouched in case the crew had to come back for re-shoots.

It is more likely, however, based on his laughter in the news report, that he just thought the room looked cool.

The police chief called in detectives for eight hours of overtime before realising that it wasn’t actually a murder scene.

He may have been influenced by the fact that 12 people have died in the George Washington Hotel since 1923, and that it has a reputation for being haunted.

Corey Haim, former Eighties teen heartthrob, died in March aged just 38 from a suspected accidental drug overdose.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Spider-Man Broadway debut is a web of bugs.

From the Daily Bugle... err.. NY Post:
Not even Spider-Man could avert this disaster.

Last night's opening pre view of Broadway's most expensive production ever, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," was an epic flop as the $65 million show's high-tech gadgetry went completely awry amid a dull score and baffling script, theatergoers griped.

Stunned audience members were left scratching their heads over the confusing plot -- when they weren't ducking for cover from falling equipment and dangling actors at the Foxwoods Theatre on West 42nd Street, some said.

At various points, overhead stage wires dropped on the audience, scenery appeared on stage missing pieces -- and the show's star was even left swaying helplessly over them midair during what was supposed to be the climatic end to the first act.

The production -- directed by Julie Taymor of "Lion King" fame and with a score by U2's Bono and The Edge -- appeared cursed from the start, audience members said.

It opened with Taymor's personal creation, the eight-legged female character Arachne, taking the stage.

The spider is the radioactive arachnid that bites Peter Parker, giving the photographer his superhuman Spider-Man powers.

As the character, played by actress Natalie Mendoza, finished her big number "Rise Above" while suspended over the crowd, an apparent wire malfunction left her stopped in midair -- where she remained for an embarrassing seven or eight minutes as stagehands worked feverishly to figure out the problem.

The stage manager finally said over the loudspeaker, "Give it up for Natalie Mendoza, who's hanging in the air!"

The show had to be stopped four times in the first act alone for various snags.

Parker's love interest, Mary Jane, was supposed to be saved from atop the Chrysler Building. But part of the building was missing, and Mary Jane was no where in sight.

As puzzled theater patrons looked around, Spider-Man -- played by Reeve Carney -- suddenly flew in with Mary Jane in his arms and put her down on stage.

He was then supposed to fly off in a dramatic end to the first act.

Instead, Spider-Man got stuck in midair and swung back and forth over the crowd as three stagehands leaped up and down futilely trying to grab onto one of his feet to haul him back to earth.

Another sticky situation involved Spider-Man nemesis Green Goblin, said disgruntled audience members.

As the Goblin -- played by Patrick Page of "Grinch" fame -- sat down at the piano for a scheduled number, he was left to continue playing on . . . and on . . . as stage workers openly rushed around to fix faulty equipment.

Page finally started vamping it up for grateful audience members, riffing on the tune, "I'll Take Manhattan."

"This is the best part of the whole show," grumbled theatergoer Steve Poizner of California.

The production dragged on for nearly 3½ hours.

In its last 10 minutes, the show was completely stopped for at least half that time to work out kinks.

"I don't know about the rest of you, but I feel like a guinea pig tonight!" one woman angrily shouted out from her orchestra seat during the down time.

"I feel this was a dress rehearsal!"

Taymor was at the preview, as was producer Michael Cohl, although Bono and The Edge were in Australia on tour with U2.

Football player blames God for dropped ball.

I love this guy. From CNN:
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson dropped a game-winning touchdown in the end zone Sunday in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Anyone who has ever tossed the pigskin around in the back yard dreams of that scenario - minus the drop, of course.

Johnson did not even have to work for the ball. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass was text-book perfect, landing squarely in Johnson's hands.

After the game, Johnson's twitter account filed this faithy tweet:



[...] This brings us to a larger theological question: Does God hate the Buffalo Bills? You may remember this is the very team that lost four straight Super Bowls.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dead: Leslie Nielsen.

Shirley, you can't be serious. From NY Daily News:
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Leslie Nielsen, who went from drama to inspired bumbling as a hapless doctor in "Airplane!" and the accident-prone detective Frank Drebin in the "Naked Gun" comedies, has died. He was 84.

His agent John S. Kelly says Nielsen died Sunday at a hospital near his home in Ft. Lauderdale where he was being treated for pneumonia.

The Canadian-born Nielsen came to Hollywood in the mid-1950s after performing in 150 live television dramas in New York. With a craggily handsome face, blond hair and 6-foot-2 height, he seemed ideal for a movie leading man.

He quickly became known as a serious actor, although behind the camera he was a prankster. That was an aspect of his personality never exploited, however, until "Airplane!" was released in 1980 and became a huge hit.

Priest solicited murder of boy he abused.

From CNN:
A Catholic priest, facing criminal charges and a lawsuit alleging that he sexually abused a teenage boy, is now charged with attempting to hire someone to kill the youth, authorities said Tuesday.

The Rev. John M. Fiala was in the Dallas County, Texas, jail on Tuesday, charged with one count of criminal solicitation to commit capital murder, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety and the jail's website. He also is charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. His bail totals $700,000.

Fiala, 52, of Dallas, was out on bond on other sexual assault charges involving the youth, now 18, when he allegedly attempted to negotiate the boy's murder, said Tom Rhodes, the teen's attorney.

He was arrested last week after he offered an undercover agent with the Texas Department of Public Safety $5,000 to kill the teen, according to department spokeswoman Lisa Block.

"This guy," Edwards County Sheriff Don Letsinger said, "is an evil man."

A call to Rex Gunter, the defense attorney listed in jail records for Fiala, was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The youth met Fiala in 2007, according to Rhodes. The attorney said the priest started "grooming him," buying him gifts including a computer and a car. In early 2008, when the boy was 16, under the guise of providing private catechism lessons, Fiala "gained access to him and began to sexually abuse him once or twice a month, including on church grounds," Rhodes said.

At the time, Fiala was administrator of Sacred Heart of Mary in Rocksprings, Texas, which is in Edwards County. The alleged abuse occurred in two counties -- Edwards and Howard -- and included the youth's rape at gunpoint, the attorney said.

Fiala allegedly threatened to kill the youth if he told anyone -- threats he repeated in daily text messages, Rhodes said, and Fiala also threatened to kill himself, telling the teen they would "go to heaven together."

The teen, after struggling with the abuse, told a school counselor, who notified authorities, Rhodes said. He filed suit in April against Fiala, as well as the archdioceses of San Antonio, Texas, and Omaha, Nebraska -- where Fiala was before Texas -- and Fiala's religious order, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, the attorney said.

Spanish woman claims she owns the Sun - and will start charging users.

Well, better her than Con Edison. From Daily Mail:
It has been up there in the sky in plain view for billions of years - and nobody seems to have thought of its earning potential - until now.

A canny Spanish woman from Galicia - a sun-drenched region on the boarder with Spain and Portugal - has decided that she owns the warming star, and has the registration papers to prove it.

Angeles Duran, 49, says that the Sun officially belongs to her now, having had the celestial body registered in her name at a local notary office.

Ms Duran told the online edition of daily El Mundo she took the step in September after reading about an American man who had registered himself as the owner of the moon and most planets in our solar system.

There is an international agreement which states that no country may claim ownership of a planet or star, but it says nothing about individuals, she added.

'There was no snag, I backed my claim legally, I am not stupid, I know the law.

'I did it but anyone else could have done it, it simply occurred to me first.'

The document issued by the notary public declares Ms Duran to be the 'owner of the Sun, a star of spectral type G2, located in the centre of the solar system, located at an average distance from Earth of about 149,600,000 kilometers'.

Ms Duran, who lives in the town of Salvaterra do Mino, said she now wants to slap a fee on everyone who uses the sun and give half of the proceeds to the Spanish government - and 20 per cent to the nation's pension fund.

She would dedicate another 10 per cent to research, another 10 per cent to ending world hunger - and would keep the remaining 10 per cent herself.

She said: 'It is time to start doing things the right way, if there is an idea for how to generate income and improve the economy and people's wellbeing, why not do it?'

For those who might be a little too broke to venture out in the sunlight - and risk a large bill at the end of the day - Ms Dueran has not yet figured out a way of enforcing her sun charge.

Friday, November 26, 2010

More than 1 in 3 South African men admit to rape.

Awful. From Yahoo! News:

JOHANNESBURG – A new survey says more than one in three South African men admit to having committed rape.

A 2010 study led by the government-funded Medical Research Foundation says that in Gauteng province, home to South Africa's most populous city of Johannesburg, more than 37 percent of men said they had raped a woman. Nearly 7 percent of the 487 men surveyed said they had participated in a gang rape.

More than 51 percent of the 511 women interviewed said they'd experienced violence from men, and 78 percent of men said they'd committed violence against women.

A quarter of the women interviewed said they'd been raped, but the study says only one in 25 rapes are reported to police.

A survey by the same organization in 2008 found that 28 percent of men in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces said they had raped a woman or girl. Of the men who had committed rape, one third did not feel guilty, said Rachel Jewkes, a lead researcher on both studies.

Two-thirds of the men surveyed in that study said they raped because of a sense of sexual entitlement. Other popular motivating factors included a desire to punish women who rejected or angered them, and raping out of boredom, Jewkes said.

"Rape is completely trivialized by a great number of men. It is seen as a legitimate activity," she said.

Jewkes believes South Africa's history of racial division and associated trauma is part of the reason of the high incidence of sexual violence in the country.

"Apartheid has contributed to culture of impunity surrounding rape in South Africa," said Jewkes. Men who were abused or experienced trauma during their childhood are much more likely to rape, she said, adding that apartheid destroyed family life, fostering violence and anti-social behavior.

The apartheid period also saw very little enforcement of common law, which has contributed to a culture of impunity, said Jewkes.

"We need to start interventions in childhood, focusing on building a more empowering childhood environment in South Africa, especially for boys," she said, "and we need to make it worth their while for women to report sexual violence."

The new study, conducted with a gender rights advocacy body, is the first community-based study of its kind with women in 12 years.

The group hopes to replicate the study across southern Africa.

French fast food chain to sell foie gras burgers.

From the Daily Mail:
It may be steeped in controversy and prohibitively expensive, but foie gras is a favourite Christmas delicacy in France.

Now, though, it is set to become a far more mainstream snack, as a fast food chain is launching a limited-edition foie gras burger.

Quick, which is a rival to McDonalds in France, will be selling the 'Supreme Foie Gras Burger' for just 5 euros, or 7.50 euros with fries and a soft drink.

The burger features pieces of foie gras atop a minced beef patty, with onion relish and rocket leaves.

It will be served at its 360 outlets across the country for three days only, from December 17 to 19.

Foie gras, which translates literally as ‘fatty liver’, is produced mainly in the southwest of France by farmers who force-feed poultry with large quantities of ground corn and wheat in order to swell the birds’ livers.

Once extracted the livers can fetch up to 100 euros per kilo at markets in the Aquitaine region and even more in Paris during the pre-Christmas shopping rush.

The move from the fast food chain is likely to enrage animal rights groups, who argue that methods used to create the delicacy causes unnecessary suffering to geese and ducks.

Defenders of animal rights fear that if Quick's three-day offer is successful, it may spark a consumer taste for foie gras, as well as demand for cheap eastern European imports.

Producers defend the practice, arguing that the birds actually enjoy being force-fed.

Tom DeLay found guilty of money laundering.

From the NY Times:
AUSTIN, Tex. — Tom DeLay, one of the most powerful and divisive Republican lawmakers ever to come out of Texas, was convicted Wednesday of money-laundering charges in a state trial, five years after his indictment here forced him to resign as majority leader in the House of Representatives.

After 19 hours of deliberation, a jury of six men and six women decided that Mr. DeLay was guilty of conspiring with two associates in 2002 to circumvent a state law against corporate contributions to political campaigns. He was convicted of one charge of money laundering and one charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

As the verdict was read, Mr. DeLay, 63, sat stone-faced at the defense table. Then he rose, turned, smiled and hugged his wife and then his weeping daughter in the first row of spectators. He faces between 5 and 99 years in prison, though the judge may choose probation.

A few minutes later, Mr. DeLay said outside the courtroom that he would appeal the decision. He called the prosecution a political vendetta by Democrats in the local district attorney’s office, and revenge for his role in orchestrating the 2003 redrawing of Congressional districts to elect more Republicans.

“This is an abuse of power,” he said. “It’s a miscarriage of justice. I still maintain my innocence. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system.”

Thanksgiving miracle: Boys survive two months adrift at sea.

From NY Daily News:
Three teenagers miraculously survived nearly two months on coconuts, rainwater and a raw seagull before being rescued at sea this week.

The teens from the Tokelau Islands - Edward Nasau, 14; Samu Perez and Filo Filo, both 15 - were rescued Wednesday by a tuna boat after a crew member spotted their tiny aluminum dinghy in the Pacific Ocean, northeast of Fiji.

"We knew it was a little weird," the tuna boat's first mate, Tai Fredricsen, told "We had enough smarts to know there were people in it and those people were not supposed to be there."

The boys had gone missing Oct. 5, and their families had already held memorial services following failed searches by the New Zealand Air Force.

They had been attempting to row their 12-foot boat between two islands in the New Zealand territory of Tokelau.

The badly sunburned seafarers were in remarkably good spirits, Fredericsen told the BBC.

"They've got a lot of gusto, a lot of strong mental spirit," he said. "Physically, they were in a bad way but mentally they are very strong."

The teens told their rescuers that they had started drinking seawater for the two days prior to their rescue, after having consumed most of their supply of coconuts.

"They did go for a period where they were only drinking fresh water, which they were capturing during the night," Fredericsen said.

The water collected on their boat's tarpaulin kept them nourished along with a seabird they managed to kill - and eat raw.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Find a local food bank.

While we stuff our maw with giblets this week, it's important to remind ourselves that 1 in 6 Americans face hunger. Please take a minute to find your local food bank and give what you can.

Food Bank Locator.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Scientists invent disposable, paper e-readers.

Wow, e-reading on paper! What will they think up next?? Item!
A breakthrough in a University of Cincinnati engineering lab could clear the way for a low-cost, even disposable, e-reader. Electrical Engineering Professor Andrew Steckl's research into an affordable, yet high-performance, paper-based display technology is being featured this week as the November cover story of ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

In the research, Steckl and UC doctoral student Duk Young Kim demonstrated that paper could be used as a flexible host material for an electrowetting device. Electrowetting (EW) involves applying an electric field to colored droplets within a display in order to reveal content such as type, photographs and video. Steckl's discovery that paper could be used as the host material has far-reaching implications considering other popular e-readers on the market such as the Kindle and iPad rely on complex circuitry printed over a rigid glass substrate.

"One of the main goals of e-paper is to replicate the look and feel of actual ink on paper," the researchers stated in the ACS article. "We have, therefore, investigated the use of paper as the perfect substrate for EW devices to accomplish e-paper on paper."

Flying snakes caught on tape.

Planes on a snake? From Science Daily:
Five related species of tree-dwelling snakes found in Southeast and South Asia may just be the worst nightmares of ophidiophobes (people who have abnormal fears of snakes). Not only are they snakes, but they can "fly" -- flinging themselves off their perches, flattening their bodies, and gliding from tree to tree or to the ground.

To Virginia Tech biologist Jake Socha, these curious reptiles are something of a biomechanical wonder. In order to understand how they do what they do, Socha and his colleagues recently studied Chrysopelea paradisi snakes as they launched themselves off a branch at the top of a 15-meter-tall tower.

Four cameras recorded the curious snakes as they glided. This allowed them to create and analyze 3-D reconstructions of the animals' body positions during flight -- work that Socha recently presented at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD) meeting in Long Beach, CA.

The reconstructions were coupled with an analytical model of gliding dynamics and the forces acting on the snakes' bodies. The analyses revealed that the reptiles, despite traveling up to 24 meters from the launch platform, never achieved an "equilibrium gliding" state -- one in which the forces generated by their undulating bodies exactly counteract the force pulling the animals down, causing them to move with constant velocity, at a constant angle from the horizon. Nor did the snakes simply drop to the ground.

Instead, Socha says, "the snake is pushed upward -- even though it is moving downward -- because the upward component of the aerodynamic force is greater than the snake's weight."

"Hypothetically, this means that if the snake continued on like this, it would eventually be moving upward in the air -- quite an impressive feat for a snake," he says. But our modeling suggests that the effect is only temporary, and eventually "the snake hits the ground to end the glide."

Hackers taking holographic liberties with Microsoft's Kinect.

Hey, at least someone is having fun with Kinect! From NY Times:
When Oliver Kreylos, a computer scientist, heard about the capabilities of Microsoft’s new Kinect gaming device, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on it. “I dropped everything, rode my bike to the closest game store and bought one,” he said.

But he had no interest in playing video games with the Kinect, which is meant to be plugged into an Xbox and allows players to control the action onscreen by moving their bodies.

Mr. Kreylos, who specializes in virtual reality and 3-D graphics, had just learned that he could download some software and use the device with his computer instead. He was soon using it to create “holographic” video images that can be rotated on a computer screen. A video he posted on YouTube last week caused jaws to drop and has been watched 1.3 million times.

Mr. Kreylos is part of a crowd of programmers, roboticists and tinkerers who are getting the Kinect to do things it was not really meant to do. The attraction of the device is that it is outfitted with cameras, sensors and software that let it detect movement, depth, and the shape and position of the human body.

Companies respond to this kind of experimentation with their products in different ways — and Microsoft has had two very different responses since the Kinect was released on Nov. 4. It initially made vague threats about working with law enforcement to stop “product tampering.” But by last week, it was embracing the benevolent hackers.

“Anytime there is engagement and excitement around our technology, we see that as a good thing,” said Craig Davidson, senior director for Xbox Live at Microsoft. “It’s naïve to think that any new technology that comes out won’t have a group that tinkers with it.”

Freemason kills mom with ceremonial sword.

Maybe he saw the fnords. From the NY Post:
An actor who had a part in "Ugly Betty" repeatedly stabbed and killed his mother with a Freemason ceremonial sword this morning, cops said.

Yannick Brea, 55, was found in her second-floor Brooklyn apartment around 2:20 a.m. with multiple stab wounds. Her son, Michael Brea, 31, was taken into custody and then to Kings County Hospital, where he is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

Cops were called to a domestic disturbance at the home earlier in the evening but left shortly thereafter. Neighbors Vernal Bent and his mother Phyllis said they heard yelling from the floor below between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. and called 911.

"I heard a shriek and a woman yelling 'help me'," Vernal Bent said. "We called 911 and we kept hearing screams and then we didn't hear them any more. Michael was chanting Biblical phrases and kept calling for Moses, Jerusalem and the 'architect of the universe'."

Taliban leader in peace talks was an imposter.

From the NY Times:
KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.

NATO and Afghan officials said they held three meetings with the man, who traveled from in Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have taken refuge.

The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.

The episode underscores the uncertain and even bizarre nature of the atmosphere in which Afghan and American leaders search for ways to bring the nine-year-old American-led war to an end. The leaders of the Taliban are believed to be hiding in Pakistan, possibly with the assistance of the Pakistani government, which receives billions of dollars in American aid.

Many in the Taliban leadership, which is largely made up of barely literate clerics from the countryside, had not been seen in person by American, NATO or Afghan officials.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Red wine packed with anti-diabetes compounds.

From New Scientist:
Red wine is a potent source of antidiabetic compounds – but they might not get past your gut. The finding is sure to enliven the ongoing debate over the drink's health benefits.

Alois Jungbauer and colleagues at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria, tested 10 reds and two whites to find out how strongly the wines bound to a protein called PPAR-gamma, which is targeted by the antidiabetic drug rosiglitazone. (This drug is marketed under the brand name Avandia and, while still available in the US, has been withdrawn in Europe because of fears over side effects.)

PPAR-gamma is a type of protein called a receptor. Among other things, it regulates the uptake of glucose in fat cells. Rosiglitazone targets PPAR-gamma in fat cells to make them more sensitive to insulin and improve the uptake of glucose. It is used as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, a condition where people either do not make enough insulin to keep their body's glucose levels down, or become resistant to normal insulin levels.

Several studies have shown that moderate consumption of red wine can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. So Jungbauer and colleagues determined the wines' binding affinity for PPAR-gamma and compared the results with the effects of rosiglitazone. They found that the white wines had low binding affinities, but all the reds bound readily: the tendency of 100 millilitres of red wine – about half a glass – to bind to PPAR-gamma is up to four times as strong as the same tendency in the daily dose of rosiglitazone.

"It's incredible. It's a really high activity," says Jungbauer. "At first we were worried it was an artefact, but then we identified the compounds responsible in the wine."

The flavonoid epicatechin gallate – which is also present in green tea – had the highest binding affinity, followed by the polyphenol ellagic acid, which comes from the oak barrels the wine is kept in. The researchers think that some of the antidiabetic activity of red wine could be due to these compounds activating PPAR-gamma.

But Jungbauer warns that these compounds don't make red wine a magic bullet. The compounds in a glass of wine may have other antidiabetic effects and in any case, not all of the compounds will be absorbed and available to the body to use. "Wine also contains ethanol, which will add to your calories," he says.

Véronique Cheynier, research director at the department of oenology at the University of Montpellier 1, France, says that most polyphenols do not pass through the digestive tract unchanged and may not be absorbed at all.

GOP risking nuclear annihilation to screw Obama.

From Yahoo! News:
LISBON, Portugal – President Barack Obama appealed Saturday to Republicans in the U.S. Senate to stop blocking a nuclear arms pact with Moscow, saying failure to soon ratify it could jeopardize improving relations with Russia and send a mixed signal to Iran about the strength of the international front against its nuclear program.

He blamed the supercharged partisan climate in Washington for the delay and said inaction on the pact would leave "a partner hanging" at a time of better cooperation among the United States, its NATO partners and Russia.

Obama said European allies at the NATO summit told him that the stalled treaty is critical to U.S.-European security. He talked with reporters after the 28-nation alliance met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to press his case, noting that Russia had voted with the U.S. and other allies to impose the latest round of U.N. penalties against Iran over its nuclear program. Russia is a partner with Iran in a civilian nuclear power project and generally has been less concerned than the U.S. that Iran may be hiding a bomb program.

Obama suggested Republican senators standing in the way of the pact with Russia were abandoning Ronald Reagan's lesson of nuclear diplomacy: "Trust but verify."

The treaty would limit each country's stockpile of nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current level of 2,200, bringing the arsenals to a level last seen in the 1950s. It would replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, which expired last December.

Republicans led by U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona say they won't consider it until the Obama administration budgets adequate money for the nation's nuclear arsenal and the laboratories that oversee them. Kyl says he needs assurances that the remaining nuclear arsenal is modernized and effective.

The administration has pledged $85 billion to maintain the nuclear arsenal over the next 10 years, in an attempt to address Kyl's concerns. But Democrats might be less willing to go along with that plan if Republicans stall the treaty.

Pope endorses condoms... for male prostitutes.

From Raw Story:
Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that condoms can be justified for male prostitutes seeking to stop the spread of HIV, a stunning comment for a church criticized for its opposition to condoms and for a pontiff who has blamed them for making the AIDS crisis worse.

The pope made the comments in a book-length interview with a German journalist, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," which is being released Tuesday. The Vaticannewspaper ran excerpts on Saturday.

Church teaching has long opposed condoms because they are a form of artificial contraception, although it has never released an explicit policy about condoms and HIV. The Vatican has been harshly criticized for its opposition.

Benedict said that condoms are not a moral solution. But he said in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, they could be justified "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection."

Benedict called it "a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way of living sexuality."

He used as an example male prostitutes, for whom contraception is not an issue, as opposed to married couples where one spouse is infected. The Vatican has come under pressure from even some church officials in Africa to condone condom use for monogamous married couples to protect the uninfected spouse from getting infected.

Jesus saves lamb.

From Daily Mail:
A reveller dressed as Larry the Lamb suffered these horrific burns after a prankster set fire to his outfit - and he turned into a human fireball.

Peter Buck, 35, spent four hours painstakingly gluing four bags of cotton wool to his torso to look like the famous cartoon character.

He went on a boozy night out with a group of mates - also in fancy dress - before ducking out of a pub for a cigarette.

With Peter's permission, a tipsy friend set fire to a loose strand of his costume 'to see what would happen'.

But the joke went horribly wrong and Peter's lamb costume burst into flames.

He ran screaming in agony into a busy main road before a driver swerved, narrowly avoiding mowing him down.

Then his friend Paul Bisson - an off-duty firefighter dressed as Jesus - bear-hugged him in a bid to douse the flames.

The cotton wool had melted and stuck to his body, causing a string of horrendous injuries to his body, legs, hands and torso.

Peter, an office administrator of Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, lost consciousness after the incident and woke up in hospital - eight hours later.

He said: 'It caught fire and burnt so fast, igniting my whole outfit almost instantly.

'I ran into the road trying to pat the flames out with my hands forcing a car to swerve, avoiding knocking me over by inches.

'Half the skin on my hands had burnt off as well as having numerous other burns on my legs, stomach, chest and arms.

'I burnt my face a little and had small burns to my lips and nose. I'm not a religious man, but the Lord saved me that day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thailand police find 2,000 fetuses in temple.

Indiana Jones & the Temple of Womb. From BBC:
Thai police say they have found the remains of more than 2,000 foetuses, thought to be from illegal abortions, hidden at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok.

The remains were discovered in the temple's mortuary in containers usually used for bodies awaiting cremation.

Police were alerted by a terrible smell after the temple's furnace broke down.

Two temple workers and a woman believed to have been paid to collect and dispose of foetuses from illegal abortion clinics have been arrested.

The bodies, wrapped in plastic bags, were discovered in a newly opened area of the mortuary, days after authorities found 348 in another room.

A 33-year-old woman has admitted taking money to collect foetuses from several clinics.

She earned just over $16 (£10) for each foetus she delivered to the temple.

Police said two temple workers had been charged with hiding the bodies.

Abortion is illegal in Thailand unless pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or a mother's health is at risk.

Police say they have begun raiding some of the 4,000 clinics in Bangkok they suspect are used to perform illegal abortions.

The case has also focused attention on the abortion business in Thailand, says the BBC's Vaudine England, in Bangkok.

Wealthy women can get abortions in safe facilities but the vast majority of Thai women wanting an abortion use clinics which could put their health and safety at great risk, our correspondent says.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Burmese democracy leader finally released by government.

From Huffington Post:
YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar's military government freed its archrival, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, on Saturday after her latest term of detention expired. Several thousand jubilant supporters streamed to her residence.

A smiling Suu Kyi, wearing a traditional jacket and a flower in her hair, appeared at the gate of her compound as the crowd chanted, cheered and sang the national anthem.

"If we work in unity, we will achieve our goal. We have a lot of things to do," she told the well-wishers, who quickly swelled to as many as 5,000. Speaking briefly in Burmese, she said they would see each other again Sunday at the headquarters of her political party.

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose latest period of detention spanned 7 1/2 years, has come to symbolize the struggle for democracy in the Southeast Asian nation ruled by the military since 1962.

The release from house arrest of one of the world's most prominent political prisoners came a week after an election that was swept by the military's proxy political party and decried by Western nations as a sham designed to perpetuate authoritarian control.

Supporters had been waiting most of the day near her residence and the headquarters of her party. Suu Kyi has been jailed or under house arrest for more than 15 of the last 21 years.

As her release was under way, riot police stationed in the area left the scene and a barbed-wire barricade near her residence was removed, allowing the waiting supporters to surge forward.

Her release was immediately welcomed by world leaders and human rights organizations.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Driver distracted by ice cream, kills two.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for OMG LOOKOUT! From FOX News:
Police in the Vermont town of Woodstock say the driver of a car involved in a crash that killed two people was eating ice cream before she noticed she was in the wrong lane.

Forty-nine-year-old Judianne Wood of Stockbridge pleaded not guilty this week to two felony counts of grossly negligent operation of a motor vehicle with death resulting stemming from the May 5 accident on Vermont Route 12.

The Rutland Herald says that a Woodstock police officer talked to Wood while she was still sitting in her vehicle. She said told the officer she had been eating ice cream that she had brought from home.

Seventy-nine-year-old Marion Grover and her 82-year-old husband Paul died as a result of injuries suffered in the crash.

Cement mixer crashes through bridge, lands on passenger train.

This is so metal. From Daily Mail:
Seven people were injured when a cement mixer lost control smashing through the wall of a railway bridge and landing on a train below.

Paramedics are treating two people in the wreckage but it appears the vast majority of passengers had a miraculous escape.

Rescuers said the two people still in the train were not pinned down by debris but could not be moved because of their injuries.

The train was passing through Oxshott, in Surrey, on its way to London Waterloo when the huge vehicle left the road above.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

GOP-led House will mean less science funding.

From the NY Times:
Federal financing of science research, which has risen quickly since the Obama administration came to power, could fall back to pre-Obama levels if the incoming Republican leadership in the House of Representatives follows through on its list of campaign promises.

In the Republican platform, Pledge to America, the party vows to cut discretionary nonmilitary spending to 2008 levels. Under that plan, research and development at nonmilitary agencies — including those that sponsor science and health research — would fall 12.3 percent, to $57.8 billion, from the Mr. Obama’s request of $65.9 billion for fiscal year 2011.

An analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science looked at what would happen if all of the agencies were cut to the 2008 amounts. The National Institutes of Health would lose $2.9 billion, or 9 percent, of its research money. The National Science Foundation would lose more than $1 billion, or almost 19 percent, of its budget, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would lose $324 million, or 34 percent.

“These agencies would be more severely impacted by a rollback to 2008,” said Patrick Clemins, who directs budget programs at the association.

What will actually emerge from the final 2011 budget bills is “really unclear,” Mr. Clemins said. “The pledge is very vague in terms of what programs will be cut,” he said.

Mr. Clemins noted that Mr. Obama had already asked federal agencies to prepare for a 5 percent cut in their budgets for 2012.

The Democrats could try to push the budget bills through the Congress before the Republicans take power in January, but since the Democrats do not have the votes to end a Senate filibuster, success would be unlikely.

Rugby star in dog sex scandal.

Canberra Raiders and Australian rugby league star Joel Monaghan is under investigation after a photo emerged showing him in a compromising position with a dog.

Monaghan described the incident as a "simulated act" meant to be a prank.

"Joel can't blame anyone but himself for an act of stupidity that will haunt him for the rest of his life," manager Jim Banaghan said in a statement.

"Joel wants to make it clear that he was the one playing a prank on an absent team mate by simulating the act.

"There are no words of explanation that can be offered because none can be appropriate.

"Joel has to now face his family as well as fans and supporters with that shame and has already undergone counselling to help him cope with the consequences of what has happened."

Raiders Chief Executive Officer Don Furner said an investigation was under way.

"If he did it, it is something he will live with for the rest of his life," Furner told a media conference.

"We don't know whether it's authentic but I am as appalled as everyone else.

"If he did do it, I don't know why he would do it."

The incident reportedly happened during the Raiders' Mad Monday celebrations following their finals loss to Wests Tigers.

The NRL says it will await the outcome of the Raiders investigation.

The photo was reportedly posted on the internet on Monday before being taken down by the Melbourne radio station that had put it online.

The action was too late with the image being re-posted through Twitter.

Harry Potter fans are decimating India's owls.

Not that FOX News cares about conservation - they just hate witchcraft. Item!
Die-hard fans of the best-selling Harry Potter stories are seriously threatening India's owl population, as demands for the ultimate wizarding accessory increase, a wildlife group says.

Potter's snow-white owl Hedwig, his trusty messenger throughout the book and film series, is being blamed by animal groups and politicians for fuelling the trade in Indian owls, as fans look to ape every aspect of their young wizard hero.

A report released this week in New Delhi by wildlife group TRAFFIC-India, which found that 15 of the country's 30 species were for sale in markets, also blames the demand for owl parts in ancient rituals for driving the illegal trade.

The report's author, Abrar Ahmed, said that his research was sparked when a friend asked him to procure an owl for her son's Harry Potter-themed birthday party.

"Although Hedwig spends much of her time in a bird cage in Harry's room, real owls do not make good pets because they need room to fly and hunt for food," said Ahmed.

"Following Harry Potter, there seems to be a strange fascination even among the urban middle classes for presenting their children with owls," India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told the BBC at the launch of the report. Traditional practitioners in India, known locally as tantriks, also demand owl bones, feathers, claws and organs, as well as the bird's blood and tears, for ceremonial rituals, the report said.

The heavily-coveted "ear-tufts" -- feathery extensions on the heads of larger owls -- are thought to grant the birds greater magical powers, and fetch a high price for the tribal communities that make a living from the trade.

One ancient practice demands the mixing of ground ear-tufts with seeds and milk, before spraying the dried powder on a person's head in order to hypnotize them.

GOP to investigate "scientific fraud" of global warming.

You voted for change.... climate change. From Raw Story:
Fresh off a dramatic victory in which it retook the House leadership, the Republican Party intends to hold major hearings probing the supposed "scientific fraud" behind global warming.

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder related the news in a little-noticed article Wednesday morning.

The effort is a likely attempt to out-step the White House on energy policy moving forward. Legislation on energy and climate change reform, one of President Barack Obama campaign promises, has yet to materialize, though Obama's EPA recently classified carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

Holding hearings would please the Republicans' conservative base, which increasingly doubts the scientific basis for global warming -- especially human-induced global warming -- and provide a reflection of the new GOP's tenor.

Ron Brownstein of the National Journal reported last week that in Tuesday's midterm election, "virtually all of the serious 2010 GOP challengers" have denied that there is scientific evidence that global warming is even happening.

"The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones," Brownstein wrote.

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists -- and just about every accredited international scientific institution in the world -- unequivocally agree that global warming occurring and is fueled by human activity.

Scientists say inaction will lead to an unmitigated spiral of polarized -- and over time rising -- temperatures, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and droughts, among other consequences.

The Republican belief to the contrary incubates the party's fervent opposition not only to cap and trade but to any measures reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Obama administration has long anticipated efforts from the GOP to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency, and plan to strongly enforce environmental regulations.

The deeply differing views of the White House and likely energy chairman, Texas Republican Joe Barton, suggests that conflicts over the issue are inevitable in the new divided government.

Coconuts removed from India for Obama's safety.

From BBC News:
Officials in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay) have taken extraordinary measures to protect US President Barack Obama ahead of his visit.

In their effort to provide maximum security in the run-up to his visit on Friday, they have removed coconuts which may fall on his head from trees.

All coconuts around the city's Gandhi museum have now been cut down, an official told the BBC.

Every year in India people are injured or even killed by falling coconuts.