Friday, December 23, 2016

The Dictator Who Stole Christmas

As staggering inflation ate away at Venezuelan salaries at the height of the Christmas season, Venezuela's president-for-life Nicholas Maduro enforced a government-mandated Black Friday, where store owners were ordered to reduce prices by up to 50% under the threat of being sent to jail if they didn’t.

This sort of December crackdown on businesses has become customary since a few years ago when the Venezuelan dictator ordered appliance chain stores to lower their prices so Venezuelans could shop at discounts-- which forced many businesses into bankruptcy.

But Maduro's Scrooge patrol really grabbed headlines on December 10, when Willia Contreras (head of Maduro's price control authority) and a band of National Guards seized 3.8 million toys from the Kreisel toy distributing company. A family-run business that has been selling toys in Venezuela for well over 20 years. Contreras’s toy police confiscated dolls, board games, robots and the like, now to be distributed and sold at “fair prices” by the government distribution network.

Following the crackdown on toys, Maduro turned his attention EPK, one of the country's leading purveyor of children’s clothing.  That firm was forced to subject its inventory to discounts of up to 70 percent.

The state media network came up with a clever way to wish Venezuelans a happy holiday, and replace Christmas with something else-- proclaiming, “¡Feliz Chavidad!”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Godzilla on the Loose In the Galapagos

This incredible footage shows a six-foot long iguana feasting underwater in the Pacific Ocean.  Nicknamed 'Godzilla' for its rampaging movements and size in comparison to its fellow sea creatures, the majestic lizard was captured in remarkably clear footage hunting for food on the sea bed. It can be seen on the prowl for food before swimming almost human-esque to the surface for air.

Marine iguanas, unique among modern lizards in their ability to forage in the open sea, are vegetarians. A nasal gland filters its blood for excess salt ingested while eating, which is expelled through the nostrils-- often leaving white patches of salt on its face.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Monster Alligator Bites The Dust

A monster alligator that had been feeding on local cattle has been killed in Okeechobee, Florida.

Professional hunter Lee Lightsey said the 15-foot beast was one of the biggest he had come across in 18 years and required a tractor to move it.  The largest alligator he had previously killed was just over 13 foot long.

"We were on a hunt for hogs and happened to come across the gator," Lightsey told reporters.  "Although this animal is huge I was not that surprised it existed.  But what really drew our attention to this animal was the fact that it seems to have been feasting on the cattle on my farm, because mutilated body parts were found in the water. It was a monster which needed to be removed."  Lightsey says he plans to get the alligator stuffed while the meat will be donated to charity.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Buying Votes By Bumrushing the Pope

Bernie Sanders was caught trying to bullshit his way into some foreign affairs cred by falsely claiming that the Pope had invited him to speak at the Vatican.

Margaret Archer, president of Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, said that Sanders had actually invited himself. “Sanders made the first move, for the obvious reasons,” Archer said. “He may be going for the Catholic vote but this is not the Catholic vote and he should remember that and act accordingly -- not that he will.”

Not long after, Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences contradicted Archer’s statement, saying “ I invited him with her consensus.”  However, he later backtracked in a CNN interview, admitting that Sander had indeed reached out to the Vatican first-- not the other way around, as Sanders had tried to claim.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi also confirmed for reporters that it wasn’t the pope who personally invited the politician. “The invitation was made on behalf of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, not by Pope Francis,” he said.  “There is no expectation that the pope will meet Mr. Sanders.”

Friday, April 8, 2016

Ridicule for Law School Named "Ass"

George Mason University has adjusted the moniker of its law school just days after renaming it in honor of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a decision that gave the institution an unfortunate acronym: “Ass.”

The Virginia college had originally announced that the school’s new name would be the Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University. The name change kicked off widespread mockery on social media, including a trending hashtag #ASSLaw on Twitter.

The official name remains the Antonin Scalia School of Law, although the school’s website and marketing materials have recently been tweaked to the Antonin Scalia Law School.  A spokesperson for the school declined to comment on the name change to the newspaper.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Court Rules Against Warrantless Tracking Technology

An appeals court in Maryland has ruled that police cannot use cellphones as a “real-time tracking device” without a warrant-- which would call into question hundreds, if not thousands, of convictions in Baltimore – and set a precedent for similar privacy cases across the U.S.

The ruling by Maryland’s second-highest court was the first by an appeals court to hold that using cell site simulator technology known as Stingray without a warrant violates an individual’s fourth amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.  The technology, which is produced by the Harris corporation and is widely used by law enforcement and the IRS, imitates a cell tower, forces a phone to send a signal and traps metadata from phones that can reveal their location.

An ACLU report shows that 61 agencies in 23 states and the District of Columbia have purchased Stingray devices, but this is one of the first times that the full scope of this technology has made it into the public record of a courtroom – due in part to non-disclosure agreements between the Harris corporation, the FBI and local jurisdictions. In 2011, Baltimore signed such an agreement that prevents the police department or state’s attorney’s office from even acknowledging use of the technology.

“It’s shocking,” public defender Deborah Levi said. “They engage in a third-party contracts to violate people’s constitutional rights.”

The state has 16 days to appeal against the ruling to the state’s highest court, and legal observers expect it could reach the U.S. supreme court.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Supreme Wisdom Without Scalia

The Supreme court has unanimously rejected a conservative challenge to voting rights – ruling that states could count the total population (not just eligible voters) in drawing legislative districts.

The case resulted when conservative activists in Texas challenged the legal principle of “one person, one vote”, which has long established that election districts should be drawn to be equal in population. The two plaintiffs argued the principle diluted the influence of those living in districts where a larger number of individuals were ineligible to vote.

But changing the method would most certainly lend greater power to states with wealthier populations with mostly white voters, and away from urban and more racially diverse areas. The lawsuit was opposed by the Obama administration and civil rights groups across America.

Not a single member of the court sided with the challengers. Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored the opinion for the court, in which the liberal justice wrote that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate a rationale upon which the court should overturn the longstanding use of total population in drawing districts.

The nation’s founders, she added, intended that “representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote”.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dreadful Bieber in the News Again

Justin Bieber has stirred controversy with his new dreadlocks, with fans calling him out for cultural appropriation.

The 22-year-old singer appeared on stage at the IHeartRadio Awards with his new hair style and posted several photos of the dreadlocks on his Instagram.

Misguided fans vented their frustrations, arguing that black hair styles are more than a fashion vogue, and cannot simply be culturally appropriated:

“People are annoyed cause when black people wear this style they are stereotyped as druggies and are “unkempt” look at Zendaya for example. She had fake dreads and she was stereotyped, But when people such as JB [...] wears them its suddenly 'the latest trend’.”

Note from the Dude:  So it's JB's fault that people with dreads are stereotyped?  Don't you see the irony in the fact that JB wearing dreads will actually help to eliminate those stereotypes? So quit your bitchin' already!

Other twitter users ranted like this:
“Dreadlocks are cultural appropriation. we've taught u this before. Your hair is fine as it was.”

Note from the Dude:  Enough with the "cultural appropriation" crap.  JB is not making fun of another culture or pretending he is African/Jamaican/whatever-- he just thinks the hairstyle is cool.  You folks would be the first to howl about freedom of expression if others starting making rules about what clothes or hairstyles you could or couldn't wear.  Chill!

The question of white dreadlocks has been at the forefront of social media traffic for the past week, since a video displaying a black student accosting a white student over his dreadlocks amassed more than three million views in three days:

Corey Goldstein (the white student harassed in the video above) responds to the issue here.  Hopefully those individuals misinformed over the "cultural appropriation" issue will get over their cultural selfishness and do something that actually benefits other cultures instead of acting like uptight hall monitors.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Yankees Suck By Screwing Over Its Fans

The Yankees would have you believe that eliminating print-at-home tickets is entirely motivated by a desire to prevent fraud, but the reality is that it has everything to do with the team’s partnership with Ticketmaster and ongoing war against StubHub.

When ticket resellers use StubHub, they can sell the ticket for whatever price the market will bear, but Ticketmaster sets artificial price floors that prevent sellers from listing tickets below face value.  This anti-competitive practice has recently been called out by the New York Attorney General, as it deprives fans the opportunity to buy tickets on a fair market.

The Yankees would like to avoid dealing with the reality of supply and demand (and perhaps try to figure out why fans would rather dump their tickets at a loss instead of going to games) as well as use the new anti-PDF policy in a blatant attempt to further undercut StubHub.

The Yankees can’t force anyone to use Ticketmaster instead of StubHub, but it can make using the latter a much bigger pain in the ass by eliminating printable tickets.   Ticketmaster doesn't rely on pdf-printed tickets, but instead delivers tickets directly to smartphones via a proprietary technology that is (surprise!) the only mobile ticket method accepted by the Yankees.  StubHub can't use Ticketmaster's proprietary smartphone delivery method, so it relies on pdf-printable tickets in order to help sellers avoid the need to arrange physical delivery of pre-printed tickets. 

StubHub is still the official ticket re-seller of Major League Baseball, but NFL is also engaged in the ongoing battle against StubHub and deprive its fans the ability to sell its ticket in a truly competitive market.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Getting "Berned" On The Campaign Trail

Bernie Sanders has been grabbing headlines by claiming that Hillary Clinton has taken “significant” contributions from the oil and gas industry.  The Washington Post is calling that a blatant lie:

The Sanders campaign is exaggerating the contributions that Clinton has received from the oil and gas industry. In the context of her overall campaign, the contributions are hardly significant. It’s especially misleading to count all of the funds raised by lobbyists with multiple clients as money “given” by the fossil-fuel industry.

Using Sanders' logic, one might come to the conclusion that Bernie has sold out to the military-industrial complex.  American Blog looked at Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s top contributors via the Open Secrets Web site-- Clinton’s top contributors are unions, foundations, and progressive organizations. While Sanders’ top contributors are huge corporations, the insurance industry, and the U.S. military.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Collapse Of Kolkata Overpass Kills/Injures Dozens

At least 21 people have been killed and some 150 are feared trapped after a flyover collapsed onto moving traffic in the Indian city of Kolkata.  Dozens of pedestrians and drivers may be crushed underneath the under-construction overpass, which came down during rush hour in a teeming commercial district near Girish Park.

Firefighters and residents rushed to rescue victims from the wreckage with their bare hands. Bloodied bodies were seen trapped under concrete slabs, while hands and legs were sticking out from under twisted debris. But ambulances were struggling to reach the scene amid the traffic.

The accident comes just days before Kolkata is due to host the T20 Cricket World Cup.   It is the latest in a string of deadly construction collapses in India, some of which have highlighted shoddy building standards.   The concrete for this bridge was laid on Wednesday night - 12 hours before it collapsed. 

Many locals said they were fleeing their houses for fear that more of the damaged structure could collapse. 'We heard a massive bang sound and our house shook violently. We thought it was an earthquake,' 45-year-old resident Sunita Agarwal told reporters.  'We're leaving - who knows what will happen next.'

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who rushed to the scene, said those responsible for the crash will not be spared - though she too will face questioning about what went wrong. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

SeaWorld Still Lying About Its Orcas

Another SeaWorld Orca With Drilled-out teeth
While many regard SeaWorld's recent decision to end breeding in its captive orca program as a huge step forward, many remain concerned that SeaWorld is still lying about its orcas' health.

SeaWorld also recently announced that its most famous orca, Tilikum, was ailing due to a supposed bacterial infection (the sad story of Tilikum was featured in the 2013 Oscar-winning documentary "Blackfish").   SeaWorld is now blaming the marine park from which it purchased Tilikum for his famously damaged teeth, which have broken off into tiny stubs.  But several former orca trainers say that SeaWorld is lying and is solely responsible for Tilikum's chronic teeth issues.

"It's preposterous that SeaWorld would say that Tilikum's teeth were in much the same condition when he arrived in Orlando," said former orca trainer Steve Huxter, who worked with Tilikum at Sealand of the Pacific before the park closed down in the early 1990s.  "Tilikum's teeth were in perfect condition when he was transferred [to SeaWorld] in 1992."  Huxter also said that SeaWorld's trainers should know this, as they spent four to six weeks working with Huxter at Sealand prior to the transfer.

Former SeaWorld trainers have also spoken out against the park's claim. Dean Gommersall, a marine mammal trainer who worked at SeaWorld Orlando when Tilikum arrived at the park in 1992, shared two photos on Facebook purportedly showing Tilikum after his arrival at SeaWorld, and then in recent years. Tilikum, who can be identified in the earlier image (taken at SeaWorld) by the unique markings over his eye, appears to have had healthy, pointed teeth when he arrived at SeaWorld.

It's long been known that SeaWorld's captive program can wreak havoc on orcas' teeth. Stressed from captivity and boredom, the orcas will often gnaw on the edges of their tanks, fracturing their long, sharp teeth.

The damage isn't just cosmetic. The fractures expose the tooth pulp, which can become a portal for bacteria to enter the bloodstream and lead to heart problems and infections in other parts of the body (such as the lungs) and even death. SeaWorld workers now routinely perform a "root canal" of sorts to clean out the tissue exposed by the broken-off teeth. For the rest of their lives, the injured orcas, (like Tilikum) must undergo daily cleanings to flush out the exposed tooth stubs.

This isn't the first time SeaWorld has lied about its orcas' teeth. The park has tried to deflect blame for the poor health of its animals by saying that poor dentition is normal in wild orcas-- but the vast majority of wild orcas are rarely found with teeth like Tilikum's.  The one exception is a small subpopulation of wild orcas that feeds on hard-skinned rays and skates--  and even then the damage after a lifetime of feeding isn't nearly as severe as what is seen on SeaWorld orcas.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bottom Of The Economic Ladder and Not Moving Up Anytime Soon

The Teamsters (and a group of more intelligent Lyft drivers) are contesting a settlement agreed to by a group of dim-witted Lyft drivers.  The class action lawsuit originally sought to define Lyft drivers as “employees”-- but the proposed settlement of $12.25 million (which would apply to all 100,000 California Lyft drivers) falls much short of that.  Strangely, the settlement would leave Lyft drivers classified as “independent contractors” and continue to shut them out of most worker protections and financial benefits they would have enjoyed as employees.

Even the judge expressed skepticism at the proposed agreement.  The court questioned why it should approve a settlement that resulted in drivers ending up “closer to independent contractor status” than before, a result that is “contrary to the original goal of the lawsuit”.

You would think benefits and job security would be worth something to a Lyft driver.   But going by the terms of the settlement, getting benefits and job security are valued at next to nothing-- with the drivers instead receiving a one time pay out of $53 to $679 dollars each. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Tale of Torn Testicles

Benea, the ball-buster
In a symbolic victory for women everywhere, a fed-up wife ripped off her Romanian husband’s testicles with her bare hands after he refused to help with the housework on International Women’s Day.

39-year-old Ionel Popa of Vaslui county, Romania, was rushed to hospital with his scrotum torn open after his 40-year-old wife Marinela Benea launched a vicious attack.  He had failed to giver her flowers on and then refused to help with the housework.

The mother-of-one grabbed hold of her husband's testicles during a fight and pulled violently.  Popa's left testicle was left hanging out of his scrotum after the skin was ripped apart.  He was forced to undergo emergency surgery to repair the damage and remains in a stable condition.

Following the incident, Benea said she did not know her own strength, adding that her husband deserved what had happened to him.  "Ionel had been given a bottle of wine for that day's work instead of getting paid, and had arrived home drunk," she told reporters.

'In the morning I opened the curtains and told him to go out and do some work, or at least to help with the household chores but he shouted that I’m not entitled to give him orders," she continued.  "I told him he was not any kind of man and I grabbed his testicles.   It was not my fault that he pulled away, and that’s when it happened."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Publishers Postpone Purported Puzzle Plagiarizer Parker

A group of eagle-eyed puzzlers, using digital tools, has uncovered a pattern of copying in the professional crossword-puzzle world that has led to accusations of plagiarism and false identity.

Since 1999, Timothy Parker, editor of one of the nation’s most widely syndicated crosswords, has edited more than 60 individual puzzles that copy elements from New York Times (NYT) puzzles, often with pseudonyms for bylines, a new database has helped reveal. The puzzles in question repeated themes, answers, grids and clues from Times puzzles published years earlier. Hundreds more of the puzzles edited by Parker are nearly verbatim copies of previous puzzles that Parker also edited. Most of those have been republished under fake author names.

Parker hasn't denied that many of his puzzles exactly replicated themes and theme answers from NYT puzzles. “To me, it’s just mere coincidence,” he said.  Despite Parker’s denial, many in the crossword world see willful plagiarism in Parker’s puzzles, and they see the database that revealed the repetition as a tool of justice.

Will Shortz, the NYT puzzle editor and the premier crossword expert in the country, was taken aback by the charges. “I have never heard of something like this happening before.  This would never have come to light except in the electronic age, where you can track these things.” He added: “To me, it’s an obvious case of plagiarism. It’s unethical, and I would never publish a person who plagiarizes another person’s work.”

Since the publication of this article, Universal Uclick and USA Today have each said that Timothy Parker will be stepping back from his role creating puzzles for the two publishers while an investigation is conducted.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Censorship Takes Wing In Turkey

The ever-growing attack against freedom of speech worldwide has taken a turn for the worse in Turkey.  There, authorities recently seized control of a newspaper linked to Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, in a widening crackdown against foes of thin-skinned President Tayyip Erdogan.

State administrators have been appointed to run the Zaman newspaper (one of Turkey's largest) at the request of an Istanbul prosecutor, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The move against the newspaper came hours after many prominent businessmen were detained over allegations of financing Gulen’s organization.  Erdogan has long claimed that Gulen is conspiring to overthrow the government by building a network of supporters in the judiciary, police and media.

“This means the practical end of media freedom in Turkey. The media has always been under pressure, but it has never been so blatant,” said Editor-in-Chief Sevgi Akarcesme.  “Taking over a newspaper is against the constitution, especially since there are no grounds for it. This amounts to the suspension of the constitution.”

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mariners Meet Missing Mummy Man

Fishermen in the Philippines recently discovered a yacht containing the mummified body of a missing German adventurer.

The fishermen said they approached the ship because they saw it drifting with a destroyed sail.  23-year-old Christopher Rivas y Escarten told police that after they saw the decomposing man inside, he and his friends decided to drag the yacht back to shore in Barobo, Surigao del Sur.

Barobo authorities used documents aboard the boat to identify the body as that of 59-year-old Manfred Fritz Bajorat, who had last been seen over seven years ago.   He had broken up with his wife (who typically traveled with him) the year before he set sail. She has since died from cancer;  it is not clear how long the German has been dead.

A photograph shows his body hunched over a desk with what appears to be a radio near his hand. A forensic criminologist has told reporters that the way Bajorat was sitting suggested he may have died from a heart attack.

A fellow sailor explained, “He was very experienced. I don’t believe he would have sailed into a storm. I believe the mast broke after Manfred was already dead.”  Unfortunately, as the old saying goes-- dead men tell no tales.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Freedom Of Expression Next On China's Hit List

China has shut down the microblogging accounts of outspoken former property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang after he criticized President Xi Jinping.

The Cyberspace Administration of China accused Ren (who has more than 30 million online followers) of publishing "illegal messages that had a bad impact".  In reality, Ren had merely written that state media were funded by taxpayers and should serve them, not the Communist Party.

China has long been criticized for its strict internet regulations, including blocking major sites and censoring posts.  In the past, Chinese state media had referred to his blog as having "anti-Communist Party" thoughts.  Almost 40 journalists are currently in prison in China for work posted online, the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says.

China has also unveiled new rules banning foreign media companies  from distributing content online without prior approval by Beijing officials.  On its surface, this rule would prohibit any sites such as CNN, BBC, MSNBC or FOX from posting content on its news sites without getting prior permission from the Chinese state.  Access to the BBC's english-language site has already been blocked on several occasions-- as recently as October of last year.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Threat Of Violence Affecting Campus Life in Texas

A dean at the University of Texas is stepping down over a new state law which will allow concealed handguns to be carried on university campuses.

Long-time dean Frederick Steiner said the policy was not "appropriate" for higher education and "did not make logical sense".   "I thought I would be responsible for enforcing a law I don't believe in," said Steiner, who has been at the school since 2001. He says he plans to return to the University of Pennsylvania when the law goes into effect in August.

Many higher education officials and students have objected to the law, with concerns it may discourage students from attending universities in Texas.

Greg Fenves, president of the University of Texas said that the law would make it more difficult to keep faculty and students at the university.   Steiner agreed, saying it was "already part of the conversation when I was trying to recruit and retain graduate students."

Staff at the University of Houston have warned professors there to avoid discussing sensitive topics and drop them from the curriculum if they "sense anger" from students who may be armed.  According to the Houston Chronicle, professors and teaching staff have also been instructed to limit student access during non-teaching hours, eliminate walk-up office hours and meet students only under "controlled circumstances".

Rich kids can still feel safe and have access to unfettered upper education, however-- according to the newlaw, private universities are allowed to ban guns on their campuses.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Pot Is Power Hungry

Marijuana might look and smell natural, but its ecological footprint is anything but green.   The $3.5 billion cannabis industry is one of the nation’s most energy intensive, often demanding 24-hour indoor lighting rigs, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems at multiplying grow sites.

As many as ten states could legalize recreational marijuana this year, which means the resultant electricity consumption could cause problems for public utilities and city officials.  The Guardian reports that last summer in Portland, Oregon, Pacific Power reported seven outages from cannabis production. Portland General Electric (PGE) experienced similar blows.

Although "rewards" programs are sprouting up to encourage energy-efficient and environment-friendly technologies,  lighting companies are expected to profit handsomely, as lighting continues to account for 80% of any indoor grower’s electricity use.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Legacy Of A Flawed Jurist

The first chapter of Scalia's legal legacy had been written by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and it isn't a flattering depiction.

According to Toobin,  Scalia devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy.  Toobin concluded, "Fortunately, he mostly failed."

Some excerpts from his excellent piece in the New Yorker:

"Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor. The great Justices of the Supreme Court have always looked forward . . . Chief Justice John Marshall read the new Constitution to allow for a vibrant and progressive federal government.  Louis Brandeis understood the need for that government to regulate an industrializing economy.  Earl Warren saw that segregation was poison in the modern world.  Scalia, in contrast, looked backward.

"His revulsion toward homosexuality, a touchstone of his world view, appeared straight out of his sheltered, nineteen-forties boyhood. When, in 2003, the Court ruled that gay people could no longer be thrown in prison for having consensual sex, Scalia dissented, and wrote, “Today’s opinion is the product of a Court . . .that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda."

"But it was in his jurisprudence that Scalia most self-consciously looked to the past.  He pioneered “originalism,” a theory holding that the Constitution should be interpreted in line with the beliefs of the white men, many of them slave owners, who ratified it in the late eighteenth century.  During Scalia’s first two decades as a Justice, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist rarely gave him important constitutional cases to write for the Court; the Chief feared that Scalia’s extreme views would repel Sandra Day O’Connor, the Court’s swing vote, who had a toxic relationship with him during their early days as colleagues."

"Scalia described himself as an advocate of judicial restraint, who believed that the courts should defer to the democratically elected branches of government. In reality, he lunged at opportunities to overrule the work of Presidents and of legislators, especially Democrats. Scalia helped gut the Voting Rights Act, overturn McCain-Feingold and other campaign-finance rules, and, in his last official act, block President Obama’s climate-change regulations. Scalia’s reputation, like the Supreme Court’s, is also stained by his role in the majority in Bush v. Gore. His oft-repeated advice to critics of the decision was “Get over it.”

"Like Nick Carraway [of the "Great Gatsby"], Scalia “wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever.” The world didn’t cooperate.  Affirmative action survives. Obamacare lives. Gay rights are ascendant; the death penalty is not . . . On the social issues where the Court has the final word, the real problem for Scalia’s heirs is that they are out of step with the rest of the nation. The public wants diversity, not intolerance; more marriages and fewer executions; less money in politics, not more. Justice Scalia’s views—passionately felt and pungently expressed though they were—now seem like so many boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Freaky Fish Down Under

A bizarre ocean creature with protruding eyes and dozens of needle-like teeth has been captured in Australian-- the second sea monster in less than a week.
The bizarre creature was caught off the Victoria state coast by a fishing trawler.  Local experts said the animal may be an Endo's Goosefish-- more commonly known as "Monkfish" or the "Sea Devil".   Not typically found in Australian waters, the species can grow up to five feet long.

Angler fishes possess some of the most impressive teeth and ensure that once prey enters their mouths, there is no chance of escape.  The pectoral and ventral fins are so articulated as to perform the functions of feet, and the its body has the ability to change its color to match its surroundings, allowing the fish to conceal itself on the ocean floor as it waits for its prey.  Monkfish also possess an enormously distensible stomach, with which they can swallow victims as large as themselves

In the previous week, another peculiar deep sea creature which looks like a cross between a crocodile and a dolphin washed ashore on the banks of Lake Macquarie in southeast Australia.
There has been great disagreement on social media regarding the identification of the animal-- some saying it is a large hairtail and others suggesting the picture has either been photoshopped or taken somewhere else

Local experts believe it is a pike eel, native to deep waters on the east coast of Australia.  The creatures are commonly caught and discarded by fishermen when hauling in a large catch. The pike eel is known to thrash around violently once hooked, damaging fishing equipment and forcing fishermen to cut their lines.
The sighting at Lake Macquarie comes after a group of fishermen pulled a terrifying frilled shark (named for its six pairs of frill-like gills along with its dorsal fins)  from the ocean in southeastern Australia.   The shark's origin dates back 80 million years and it is only one of two species still alive from this period.   Growing up to six feet in length, the creature is believed to be the source of reports of mythological "sea serpents."

Friday, March 4, 2016

Details of Scalia Death Generating Buzz

Although the death of Antonin Scalia was initially clouded in some degree of secrecy, some details have now emerged. Scalia was vacationing at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury resort offering “a true West Texas experience.” Guests enjoy trail rides via horse, ATV or Humvee around the massive 30,000 acre property.

The ranch is also home to John B. Poindexter, owner of J.B. Poindexter & Company.   Scalia was an invited guest at the resort and it was Poindexter himself who discovered Scalia’s body.

Scalia's stay at the resort was a gift from the ranch's wealthy owner, who benefited from a decision handed down by the Supreme Court last year.  In that case, the Supreme Court decided to let stand a lower court ruling dismissing an age discrimination lawsuit filed against one of Poindexter's companies.

The ranch is not served by any commercial flights, and it is not known whether Scalia had paid for his flight on the private charter or if someone else picked up the tab.  It is also still not known who else was at the Texas ranch for the weekend-- so questions continue to swirl regarding potential conflicts of interest or influence peddling. 

Poindexter did confirm to Wapo that he did not pay for the flight that Scalia took to the ranch. So, if he didn’t pay for the charter flight—who did?  Salaries for Supreme Court justices are just over $200K-- not nearly enough to cover charter flights to secluded luxury resorts.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Oregon Militia Can't Deal With Its Own Shit

The armed militia in Oregon left behind “significant amounts of human feces” and dug trenches filled with waste on wildlife refuge grounds that contained sensitive Native American artifacts, according to the FBI.

One week after the last four anti-government protesters surrendered at the Malheur national wildlife refuge, federal investigators have begun the long task of processing the crime scene and have uncovered firearms, explosives, potential booby traps and large piles of human excrement.

Bundy and 24 other people are now facing federal conspiracy charges for their role in the occupation of the wildlife sanctuary, which began as a protest of government land-use regulations and ended after 41 days of a tense standoff with the FBI.

Although the rightwing protesters argued that the federal government should transfer control of the public lands to local people, leaders of the Paiute Indian tribe in the nearby town of Burns have noted that their ancestors first occupied the land, which they say is home to sacred burial grounds and important cultural artifacts.

Tribal leaders were outraged last month when militia leaders posted a video of themselves rifling through Palute Indian artifacts stored at the site. The protesters also paved a new road at the wildlife sanctuary.

“It is pretty disrespectful, but what can you expect from people like that?” a tribal leader said. “They’re out there trampling on our burial grounds, making roads and digging bunkers … It is pretty well trashed.”

Monday, February 29, 2016

Death By Selfie

A young dolphin has died of dehydration after being paraded around like a trophy and stroked by a crowd of Argentinian sunbathers who then abandoned it on the sand.

The group of people huddled around the mammal taking selfies after it was found on the beach resort of Santa Teresita in a province northeast of Buenos Aires.   Dozens of people crowded round to look at the squirming calf as they strained to touch it, and have their photos taken with it.

The La Plata dolphin (also known as the Franciscana dolphin) can live to be twenty years old.  The species is listed as vulnerable and is of particular conservation concern because of its restricted distribution and vulnerability to incidental capture in fishing gear. There are only around 30,000 animals of its kind thought to be left in the world.

The last tragic images of the individual exploited in this incident show the body, abandoned on the sand, as people continue to take pictures.

The episode has caused the Wildlife Foundation in Argentina to issue a reminder to the public regarding the vulnerable species, which is only present off the coast of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Manning Sexual Assault Allegations Resurface

Thirteen years ago, USA Today obtained 74 pages of explosive court documents on Peyton Manning, Archie Manning, the University of Tennessee, and Florida Southern College that revealed allegations of a sexual-assault scandal, cover up, and smear campaign of the victim that was so deep, so widespread and so ugly that it would've rocked the American sports world to its core.

Mel Antonen, now a baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, wrote about the documents for the paper on Nov. 3, 2003. Three days later, Christine Brennan, longtime sportswriter for USA Today wrote an op-ed about Peyton Manning and the documents entitled, “Do you really know your sports hero?” but the scandal pretty much died right there.  And don't even expect ESPN to cover this story-- it's become pretty clear that the once-respected sports network is the latest apologist for the scandal-plagued NFL.

ESPN has been running up the ratings with the feel-good story of the veteran QB winning the Super Bowl in his final season.  And many other sports writers and evangelical leaders have been extolling Manning “squeaky clean” image and positioning the Broncos QB as the arbiter of all things good and decent-- but that wouldn't be the case if this story had been reported on by responsible media outlets when it occurred.

The newly reported facts of the covered-up Manning sexual assault case provide credible evidence that Peyton and the Manning family knowingly, willingly, wantonly ruined the good name and career of Dr. Jamie Naughright, a respected scholar, speaker, professor, and trainer of some of the best athletes in the world.

Only time will tell if this story is treated with the seriousness it deserves or whether Manning is allowed to retire with the dignity he probably doesn't deserve.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

ESPN No Longer Cool

ESPN has been garnering much criticism of late by white-washing criticism of the NFL from its airwaves in a naked attempt to curry favor and programming from the controversy-drenched league.  Don't most people expect ESPN to report on sports?

During the recent  NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler used the opportunity to launch into some good words for Canada, saying, “The U.S. has a lot it could learn from Canada-- Health care, taking care of people.”

But ESPN reporter Sage Steele was having none of it.  “We’re talking about celebrity stuff, not politics,” Steele interrupted as ESPN quickly cut away. “Congratulations on your MVP!”

Saturday, February 20, 2016

More Incompetence in Flint

Residents of Flint, Michigan, began getting gravely ill and in some cases dying in summer 2014 in one of the worst outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in U.S. history, and a county health director says attempts to find the source were hampered when the state wouldn't request federal assistance.   Eventually, 87 people got Legionnaire's and nine died.

According to Genesee County Health director Jim Henry, state officials purposely kept the CDC away once the county wanted to investigate the highly corrosive Flint River as the Legionnaire's outbreak began. By that time, the state had decided to switch the water supply source to the Flint River, and soon brown water began flowing from taps in the city. 

The CDC never showed up after being contacted by county officials and it appears that state purposely intervened.  According to CDC protocol, a state must "invite" the CDC to investigate an outbreak. And Michigan did not do that.  According to the CNN story, the CDC says "Michigan felt that they had the skills and resources needed to perform the investigation themselves."  Michigan state officials admit hat they never found the cause of the outbreak, but refuse to comment further.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Censorship On The Rise in France

And you thought we were past the "anti-smut" conservative movement that saw its heyday in the U.S. back in the 1970-80's.  What's even more shocking is that the latest battle against freedom of expression in the arts is taking place in France

The French conservative values group "Promouvoir" has won another victory in its crusade against sex and violence on French screens. Lars von Trier’s 2009 drama, "Antichrist", which won the best actress prize for Charlotte Gainsbourg at the Cannes film festival, has seen its operating visa revoked by a court in Paris. The court cited “scenes of great violence” and “non-simulated sex” in its decision, per multiple reports.

The move comes at a time when Promouvoir has won campaigns against several major titles in recent months, mostly over sexual content. It’s also somewhat ironic in a country that saw its right to to artistic expression so devastatingly attacked last year.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lifting the Veil of Bush-Era Secrecy

On a snowy afternoon in February 2004, an FBI agent came to Nick Merrill’s door, bearing a national security letter (NSL).  At the time, Merrill was  running a small internet service provider (called Calyx) on Manhattan's west side. 

The NSL demanded details on one of his company’s clients-- including cellphone tower location data, email details and screen-names.  If Merrill even talked about the NSL with his girlfriend or a lawyer, he could go to jail on "national security" charges.

NSL's were sparingly used over the years, but the Patriot Act vastly expanded what an NSL could be used for, and the FBI began rapidly abusing the tool, issuing nearly 57,000 in the most recent year.  After n 11-year battle with the FBI, Merrill can now finally tell his story to the public.

With the ACLU, Merrill went to court to challenge the constitutionality of the letter, and its associated gag order.

The case, in which Merrill was listed as a “John Doe” because of the terms of the order, was against the attorney general, John Ashcroft, FBI director, Robert Mueller, and FBI senior counsel Marion Bowman.

The same year, a district court judge, sided with Merrill against the federal government, finding that the letter violated his fourth amendment rights. A year later, in response, Congress amended the statute. Merrill went to court again; again, the district court struck down the law.  In 2008, a second circuit judge affirmed that decision.  The FBI eventually decided it no longer wanted the information it had demanded and dropped its demand for records-- but it continued to challenge Merrill's right to disclose the letter and publicly discuss his case.

In 2014, a federal judge in New York finally ruled that the gag order be completely lifted.  After waiting out the period in which the Department of Justice could appeal, Merrill finally received permission to publish the full, un-redacted version of the letter.

It has taken a long fifteen years-- but we are another step closer to unraveling the tortured legacy of the Bush administration.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Words of Antonin Scalia

This was the guy who was actually weighing in on some of the most important issues of the day . . . .

On the death penalty:  "Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached."

In deciding that private businesses can be exempted from certain laws on religious grounds:  “Well, religious beliefs aren’t reasonable. I mean, religious beliefs are categorical. You know, it’s God [that] tells you. It’s not a matter of being reasonable."

On the right of Americans to arm themselves with anything that can be hand-carried:  "I suppose there are hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes, that will have to be decided.”

Responding to critics who say his religion impairs his fairness in rulings: “To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo." (Italian slang meaning "fuck you")

“If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.” He then used a 19th-century law restricting the movement of freed slaves to bolster his argument:  "[Back in the day], “State laws not only provided for the removal of unwanted immigrants but also imposed penalties on unlawfully present aliens and those who aided their immigration.”

“Nobody thought it (the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection) was directed against sex discrimination.  Although [gender bias]  shouldn’t exist-- [the idea that it is] constitutionally forbidden is a modern invention.”

Upon being corrected during oral arguments for mistakenly using the term stratosphere:  “Troposphere, whatever. I told you before I’m not a scientist. That’s why I don’t want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth.”

On why he believed that comments from legislators were irrelevant in figuring out what statutes meant: “Once Congress floats that text out there, it has its own life. It means what it means. It means what it says.”

"Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie. Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say."

On his belief that racism no longer exists and that the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed:  "[There is a] phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement.  It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes."

On his tendency to equate homosexuality with murder and bestiality:  “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder?"

“[The Texas anti-sodomy statute] undoubtedly imposes constraints on liberty ... So do laws prohibiting prostitution, recreational use of heroin, and, for that matter, working more than 60 hours per week in a bakery.”

Explaining why an unopposed vote on a piece of legislation actually undermines the law:  “The Israeli supreme court, the Sanhedrin, used to have a rule that if the death penalty was pronounced unanimously, it was invalid, because there must be something wrong there.”

The Daily Dude notes that in 1986, the Senate approved Justice Scalia’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 98 to 0 . . . by Scalia's standards, there must be something wrong there.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Wiping Up The Mess After Treating Your Passport Like Shit

A woman has been refused entry to Thailand after ripping pages from a passport to use instead of toilet roll.  Faye Wilson, from the Lake District of Scotland, was turned back by border officers after they found missing pages, which she said she had used as toilet paper when drunk.  Here's how she put it:
"We were walking from one bar to the next and we must have been desperate for a wee and obviously didn't have any toilet roll.  It was maybe two or three pages. I was a bit drunk so didn't even think about the consequences."

"Thai immigration just opened my passport and started looking through it, and asked 'what's happened here'?  I just said that I had lost the pages because I was too embarrassed to explain the real reason. Before I could explain more, they had deported me back to Dubai and then to Glasgow and confiscated my documents."

Wilson will now have to apply for an emergency passport back in Scotland to continue the trip.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Another Stereotype Bites the Dust

The “drunken Indian” stereotype and been a disgraceful slur levied against Native Americans for centuries. But a new study at the University of Arizona has debunked the long-held view that American Indians have a uniquely high rate of use and abuse.

Researchers found that the rate of binge and heavy drinking is the same for Indians and whites. There was a major area of difference, however: Indians are more likely to abstain from alcohol altogether than are whites. The study appears in the Feb. 8 edition of the peer-reviewed journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The researchers examined data from a survey of more than 4,000 Native Americans and 170,000 whites between 2009 and 2013. They found that about 17 percent of both Indians and whites were binge drinkers (five or more drinks on one to four days in the previous month). About 8 percent of both groups were heavy drinkers (five or more drinks on five or more days in the previous month). But 60 percent of Indians reported no alcohol use in the past month, compared to 43 percent of whites.

James K. Cunningham, the lead author of the study, said: "Of course, debunking a stereotype doesn't mean that alcohol problems don't exist. All major U.S. racial and ethnic groups face problems due to alcohol abuse, and alcohol use within those groups can vary with geographic location, age and gender.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

God Tweeted GOP NH Primary Results

Irate Gambler Lynched in Nairobi

A Tanzanian gambler has been stoned to death by fellow players at a casino in Kenya's capital Nairobi after he killed two of its employees.

The attack took place at the City View Bar and Restaurant Casino on Tenth Street in Nairobi's Eastleigh district.  The man, identified as John Barnabas Mchanga,  lost his temper when he was refused a chance to try to win back the $300 he had lost, according to police.

Mchanga went to the manager's office and demanded a free play from 40-year-old Winfred Mbuvi, but she turned him down.  He used a Somali sword to stab her several times, killing her.  A security guard, James Lutea, tried to rescue her but was also fatally stabbed.

The Tanzanian gambler also stabbed another guard, Kevin Ogada, who was being treated in a hospital and was listed in a serious condition.   The incident sparked panic and chaos at the casino, sending some patrons running for their lives while a mob of onlookers confronted the gambler.  The mob chased Mchanga and stoned him to death in a nearby street.

Casinos have been growing in popularity in Kenya in recent years.  Revenues for 2014 were estimated at $20 million, representing an annual increase of more than 6%.  Revenue growth is expected to fall, however, due to slower economic growth and a newly-levied 20 percent withholding tax on gambling winnings.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Boo-hoo Over a Subaru

If you haven't been watching TV recently, you probably didn't know that Subaru has been running one of the most heart-breaking commercials in recent memory. The ad is titled "Dream Weekend" and it follows a man and his dog, celebrating the pooch's 14 and 3/4 birthday.  It will only take the viewer a few sad moments to realize why he isn't waiting to celebrate his dog's 15th.

The melancholy strains of Willie Nelson's "I've Loved You All Over The World" wash over the moments onscreen, as we watch the man marks items off his dog's bucket list one by one.

1. Road Trip
2. 100 tennis balls
3. Ferris Wheel
4. Sky diving
5. Beach
6. Old girlfriend
7. Chew a shoe
8. Massage at a hotel
9. Steak dinner
10. Hot air ballooning
11. Breakfast in bed
12. Looping roller coaster
13. (unknown)
14. River rafting
15. Ride a train
16. Sneak into a hotel pool
17. Run in the park
18. Dig a big hole

The commercial ends as the man and his loyal friend enjoy a sunset at the beach- the last item on the list. Watch for yourself:


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