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Friday, December 2, 2011

In the News: December 2, 2011 (Part 2)

Continuing the news articles.... (Click here for Part 1)

Mayans 'did not predict world to end in 2012'

Hmm. Guess it was a little premature to give away all my possessions and donate all my money to charity.

"The calendar used by the ancient Mayan civilisation does not predict the end of the world in December 2012 as some believe, according to experts.

A new reading of a Mayan tablet mentioning the 2012 date suggests that it refers to the end of an era in the calendar, and not an apocalypse.

The date was "a reflection of the day of creation", Mayan codes researcher Sven Gronemeyer told AP.

The day also marked the return of a Mayan god, Mr Gronemeyer added.

Bolon Yokte, the god of creation and war, was expected to return, according to Mr Gronemeyer's reading of a Mayan text carved into stone 1,300 years ago.

The date marks the end of one of the periods of roughly 400 years into which the Mayan calendar is divided.

Mexico's National Institute for Anthropological History has also tried to counter speculation that the Mayans predicted a catastrophic event for 2012.

Only two out of 15,000 registered Mayan texts mention the date 2012, according to the Institute, and no Mayan text predicts the end of the world.

"There is no prophecy for 2012. It is a marketing fallacy," Erik Velasquez, etchings specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Reuters.

Tiny 'saber-toothed squirrel' found

"As suggested in the "Ice Age" movies, some crazy-looking creatures roamed the planet millions of years ago. But there is a large gap in the fossil record from about 60 million to 120 million years ago when it comes to mammals in South America. Where were they, and what did they look like?

Scientists have now discovered a quirky little creature from this time period, as reported in the journal Nature. It's called Cronopio dentiacutus, and it resembles a mouse-sized squirrel with proportionally long teeth, although technically speaking it is neither a squirrel nor saber-toothed.

"The reality of exploration and research can sometimes be as strange as fiction that we see in the movies," said Guillermo Rougier, lead author of the study and professor at the University of Louisville.

The extinct mammal, which lived 94 million years ago, belongs to the lineage that has given rise to the marsupials and placental mammals that we know today. It's related to all living mammals, including humans in a remote way. It has been extinct for about 60 million years. Rougier and colleagues examined its unique skull.

"Scientists believe was Cronopio dentiacutus was an insectivore, which is common for small animals today. Their teeth seem to be specialized for cutting and crushing; the large canines of Cronopio dentiacutus could puncture through small insects. To give you some perspective on the size of these canines, imagine if one of your front teeth came down below your chin, Rougier said.

Coronpio dentiacutus lived at the same time as small carnivorous dinosaurs, terrestrial crocodiles and snakes with legs. It inhabited the flood plains of Argentina that is now a desert area in Patagonia, where people live on subsistence farming

Most mammals were very small, like Coronpio dentiacutus, at that time, said Rougier. It wasn't until big dinosaurs went extinct that mammals grew to be as large as cats and small dogs."


Unlike many of the stories I post, this one is actually very important.
And oddly enough, very few news outlets gave it any major coverage.

U.S.'s Most Powerful Nuclear Bomb Being Dismantled

"The last of the nation's most powerful nuclear bombs — a weapon hundreds of times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — is being disassembled nearly half a century after it was put into service at the height of the Cold War.

The final components of the B53 bomb will be broken down Tuesday at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, the nation's only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility. The completion of the dismantling program is a year ahead of schedule, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, and aligns with President Barack Obama's goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons.

"First put into service in 1962, when Cold War tensions peaked during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the B53 weighed 10,000 pounds and was the size of a minivan. According to the American Federation of Scientists, it was 600 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.

The B53 was designed to destroy facilities deep underground, and it was carried by B-52 bombers.

Since it was made using older technology by engineers who have since retired or died, developing a disassembly process took time. Engineers had to develop complex tools and new procedures to ensure safety.

"We knew going in that this was going to be a challenging project, and we put together an outstanding team with all of our partners to develop a way to achieve this objective safely and efficiently," said John Woolery, the plant's general manager.

Many of the B53s were disassembled in the 1980s, but a significant number remained in the U.S. arsenal until they were retired from the stockpile in 1997. Pantex spokesman Greg Cunningham said he couldn't comment on how many of the bombs have been disassembled at the Texas plant.

The weapon is considered dismantled when the roughly 300 pounds of high explosives inside are separated from the special nuclear material, known as the pit. The uranium pits from bombs dismantled at Pantex will be stored on an interim basis at the plant, Cunningham said.

Back to the nonsense:
Tobey Maguire settles poker lawsuit
I don't understand this decision at all...

The actors won the money "fairly". (Albeit, in an illegal poker game).
Why are they responsible for paying back the investors involved in the scheme?

"Tobey Maguire has settled a lawsuit that sought repayment of hundreds of thousands of dollars the "Spider-Man" actor allegedly won in secret high-stakes poker games at Beverly Hills luxury hotels, according to court documents filed last week.

A series of federal suits, including the one against Maguire, said the poker winnings were paid with funds stolen from investors who had been lured into an illegal Ponzi scheme.

Maguire agreed to pay $80,000 to the estate of Bradley Ruderman, 48, who is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence for tax, wire and investor advice fraud convictions. The judge will hold a hearing on December 21 to decide if he will approve the Maguire settlement.

The lawsuit against Maguire, filed in March, alleged that the actor won $311,000 from Ruderman in 2007 and 2008.

"None of the defendants in the civil lawsuits faced criminal charges, but the bankruptcy trustee for Ruderman's estate said they had to return at least $1.5 million of their alleged gambling winnings."

Postal Service reports massive $5 billion loss
Barack Obama: "Let's keep pumping money into an inefficient business model and not make any changes. I'm sure it will work this time!"
(Note: Not a real quote. But his policies imply it)

"The U.S. Postal Service released its annual financial results on Tuesday, and they're nothing to write home about.

The agency reported an annual loss of $5.1 billion, as declining mail volumes and mounting benefit costs take their toll. The Postal Service said its losses would have been roughly $10.6 billion if not for the passage of legislation postponing a $5.5 billion payment required to fund retiree health benefits.

Revenues from First-Class Mail, the Postal Service's largest and most profitable product, declined 6% from the previous fiscal year to $32 billion. Total mail volume declined by 3 billion pieces, or 1.7%.

[The most frustrating part (it involves government policy, of course):]

"The Postal Service wants to cut costs by closing nearly 3,700 facilities in the U.S. and replacing existing government health care and retirement plans. It also wants to void union contracts in order to lay off 120,000 postal workers, a move strongly opposed by the Obama administration.

"The Postal Service can become profitable again if Congress passes comprehensive legislation to provide us with a more flexible business model so we can respond better to a changing marketplace," Donahoe said.

The competition, meanwhile, has been reporting solid growth. In September, FedEx reported a 22% year-over-year increase in quarterly earnings. UPS said last month that its quarterly earnings grew 14% from the prior year.

So the private sector business that do essentially the same thing are growing, but government still thinks it can do a better job than the free market...

Medical Marijuana Laws Shown to Reduce Traffic Fatalities
Legalize. Tax. Regulate.
Seems like the logical conclusion to me...

"Any attempt to segue into this post with a clever lead is likely to fall flat, so in the interest of skipping the cliches: a new study out of University of Colorado Denver and Montana State University shows that legalizing medical marijuana sales in various states over the past two decades has led to a nearly 10 percent drop in traffic fatalities. What the study really shows--by way of causal chain--is a five percent drop in beer sales, and that has in turn led to fewer fatalities on the road. Put that in your pipe and smoke it (couldn’t resist just one).

This is the kind of study that’s going to be attacked from all sides, by those with agendas and those who will simply point out that establishing that causal link between legalized pot and the decrease in alcohol sales (and in turn the reduced traffic deaths) is difficult with all the variables out there. But it is an interesting study for no other reason than it actually attempts to measure the effects of legalizing pot by linking it to some kind of hard data rather than some hard-to-quantify metric.

"...Daniel Rees of UC Denver and D. Mark Anderson of MSU started looking at the traffic data both nationwide and more particularly in the 13 states that legalized marijuana for medical use between 1990 and 2009.

They found several connections and trends that seemingly stem from the legalization laws, but most notably they found evidence that alcohol consumption by 20- to 29-year-olds decreased, and that translated into fewer deaths on the road. Previous simulator studies have shown that drinkers tend to drive more aggressively and take more risks, while marijuana users tilt toward risk-averse behaviors. Notably, they also found that in the states that legalized marijuana there was no evidence of an uptick in use among minors, which is a major concern for the medical marijuana opposition.

As opposed to alcohol...
What damage does alcohol do to our bodies?

"We know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for us. It gives us hangovers, makes us feel tired and does little for our appearance - and that is just the morning afterwards.

Long term, it increases the risk of developing a long list of health conditions including breast cancer, oral cancers, heart disease, strokes and cirrhosis of the liver.

Research shows that a high alcohol intake can also damage our mental health, impair memory skills and reduce fertility."

"Numerous heart studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption helps protect against heart disease by raising good cholesterol and stopping the formation of blood clots in the arteries.

However, drinking more than three drinks a day has been found to have a direct and damaging effect on the heart. Heavy drinking, particularly over time, can lead to high blood pressure, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure and stroke. Heavy drinking also puts more fat into the circulation of the body.

The link between alcohol and cancer is well established, says Cancer Research UK. A study published in the BMJ this year estimated that alcohol consumption causes at least 13,000 cancer cases in the UK each year - about 9,000 cases in men and 4,000 in women.

"Alcohol is undoubtedly a public health issue too.

Earlier this year, NHS figures showed that alcohol-related hospital admissions has reached record levels in 2010. Over a million people were admitted in 2009-10, compared with 945,500 in 2008-09 and 510,800 in 2002-03. Nearly two in three of those cases were men.

At the same time the charity Alcohol Concern predicted the number of admissions would reach 1.5m a year by 2015 and cost the NHS £3.7bn a year.

Last year, a study in The Lancet concluded that alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack when the overall dangers to the individual and society are considered.

The girl who dared to tweet about Gov. Brownback

"There is a new scandal breaking involving an elected official, a young woman and Twitter. And, nope, it's not what you think.

This one involves 18-year-old Kansas high school senior Emma Sullivan, who was on a school trip last week to the Kansas state Capitol as part of the Youth in Government program. On her way back from the event, she jokingly tweeted to her then-65 followers on Twitter the following about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback: "Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot."

When you tweet to 65 people on Twitter, it usually just ends there, quickly evaporating into the cybersphere -- tweets are truly the epitome of ephemeral.

That is unless you happen to tweet about the governor of Kansas. In a move that would have undoubtedly impressed Richard Nixon, the Kansas governor's director of communication, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, is charged with the daily monitoring of any negative comments about Brownback on social-media websites.

Jones-Sontag, finding this 73-character tweet by a high school student a threat to the good name of the governor, bolted into action. She contacted the Youth in Government organizers and expressed her outrage over the tweet. In turn, the event administrators, no doubt concerned that the governor's director of communication had taken the time to contact them, informed Sullivan's high school principal.

Sullivan soon found herself in her principal's office being scolded for nearly an hour. Bottom line: The principal has mandated the student write a letter of apology to the governor that is due Monday.

Sullivan, who says she was making a political comment on Brownback's conservative policies that she disagrees with, announced her refusal to apologize for criticizing the governor.

Follow up:
Kansas governor apologizes for 'overreaction' to teen's disparaging tweet
Hooray! Common sense has prevailed!

"Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback apologized Monday for what he called his staff's "overreaction" to a disparaging tweet directed at him by a high school senior during a state Capitol visit.

Emma Sullivan, 18, said late Sunday that a Brownback staffer had notified her school's principal about the tweet, and the principal told her she had to write an apology to the governor. On Monday -- the deadline for the letter, according to the teen -- the Shawnee Mission School District issued a statement stating that "she is not required to write a letter of apology to the governor."

A statement issued by Brownback on Monday did not reference Sullivan by name or mention the prospect of any apology letter. He did emphasize his support for "freedom of speech," while thanking "the thousands of Kansas educators who remind us daily of our liberties, as well as the values of civility and decorum."

"My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize," the governor said. "Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms."

Flamingo Fundraiser Outrages Quincy Homeowner
Someone's got a case of the crazies...

"Carol Abbott’s front yard is exceptionally well-manicured and, at the moment, heavily decked out for Halloween. She’s clearly a fan of decorating her home.

But a flock of flamingos, she says, was too much.

“I was not happy that people had to stand on my property to insert these things into my lawn, and [put up] a big sign that I’ve been flocked,” says the Quincy resident. “I love my yard, I love my private property and it was a shock to me to see that.”

"The “flocking” is a fundraiser for Quincy High School’s “Senior Night Out”, a post-prom party that offers an after-hours, alcohol-free environment to keep kids safe.

In their third year as fundraisers, the flocks consist of a dozen plastic pink flamingos that make the rounds throughout Quincy. If they show up on your lawn, it means someone paid $20 dollars to send them there. The project raises around $5,000 annually to put toward the estimated $12,000 expense of “Senior Night Out”.

If your front yard gets “flocked” you can do something called “flock it forward”: pay $20 and send the birds to your friend’s house. Or, you can just leave them there and the kids will pick them up later in the day.

When Carol saw hers, she called the school to complain. When she didn’t hear back, she called the Quincy Police.
(CBS Boston)

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