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.”


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