Monday, July 19, 2010

Extra, extra: In Other News, online

Posted By on Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 9:00 AM

In this week's installment: ill-fated proposals, powerful potatoes and the gradual erosion of American education.

Curses, Foiled Again
Police responding to a home-burglary call in Kennewick, Wash., found Nathan Watkins, 31, making a slow-speed getaway on a stolen riding mower in broad daylight, towing a trailer of other lawn-care equipment and a second riding mower.

Police investigating the theft of petty cash from a church in York, Pa., identified Allen Larry Dawes, 28, as their suspect after they found his birth certificate at the crime scene.

Mensa Rejects of the Week
Chicago police reported that a 28-year-old man was hospitalized in critical condition after fireworks with the explosive strength of a quarter-stick of dynamite blew up in his face. News Affairs Officer Amina Greer said the man had put the fireworks in a tube in the ground. When they didn’t go off, he peered inside to find out why. Just then, they detonated.

Sheriff’s deputies in King County, Wash., said a 52-year-old man built a homemade “aerial device” by tying together a bunch of sparklers. When he put it inside a concrete cinder block to brace it, it “exploded in place, sending pieces of the concrete block in all directions.” Fragments dented the door of a nearby car, broke a car window and critically injured a 52-year-old man who was standing 15 to 20 feet away.

Dumbing Up
Law schools at New York University, Georgetown and eight other universities have made their grading systems more lenient in the past two years, so their graduates will appeal to prospective employers. And in June, Loyola Law School Los Angeles announced it’s inflating its grades by a third and making the change retroactive. “If somebody’s paying $150,000 for a law-school degree, you don’t want to call them a loser at the end,” said former Duke University geophysics professor Stuart Rojstaczer, who now studies grade inflation, “so you artificially call every student a success.”

Duke, the University of Texas at Austin and other law schools now offer their students stipends to take unpaid public-interest internships. And Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law recently began paying for-profit law firms to hire its students.

New York kept its promise not to dumb down statewide exams that determine whether students advance to the next grade; however, it awarded partial credit for wrong answers on the state math test. A miscalculation by a fourth-grader that 28 divided by 14 equals 4 instead of 2 is “partially correct,” for example, if the student uses the right method to verify the wrong answer. A student who answers that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48 inches long gets half credit for adding 24 and 24 instead of the correct 12 plus 12. State Education Department official Tom Dunn defended the scoring, explaining that students are asked to show their work, and the scoring guidelines, called “holistic rubrics,” require that points be given for answers that indicate “a partial understanding of the mathematical concepts or procedures embodied in the question,” even if that understanding leads to fully wrong answers.

Half-Baked Idea
Researchers developed a potato-powered battery they say produce electrical energy five to 50 times cheaper than conventional batteries. Haim Rabinowitch and Alex Golberg of Israel’s Hebrew University and Boris Rubinsky of the University of California at Berkeley reported in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy that they discovered how to construct an efficient battery using zinc and copper electrodes and a slice of potato. Further research found that boiling the potato increased electric power tenfold over a raw potato.

Emergency Dating Service
Authorities said Audrey Scott, 57, of Alliance, Ohio, called the 911 emergency line five times looking for a husband. “You need to get a husband?” the dispatcher asked. Scott replied, “Yes.” When told she could face arrest for misusing 911, Scott responded, “Let’s do it.” She was sentenced to three days in jail.

Second-Amendment Follies
Jack Jenkins, 70, a vendor at a gun show in Orlando, Fla., told police who responded to reports of a shooting that he was looking at a Colt .45 semi-automatic handgun and noticed the hammer was cocked back. He pointed the gun toward the concrete floor and pulled the trigger “without ensuring the firearm was clear and safe,” according to the police report. The loaded weapon fired, striking the floor and sending concrete fragments into the air, where they injured two of Jenkins’s fellow vendors.

The Dallas Police Department suspended Officer Kelly Beemer after she fired her service weapon while off-duty in a squad car that had been called to a bar where she was drinking with two other off-duty officers. Investigators said Beemer, who commanders called to the scene after the incident said was too drunk to be interviewed, was belligerent when she got into the vehicle, pulled the weapon from her holster and fired it into the floorboard.

How the West Was Lost
When Natcore Technology, a New Jersey company that holds the license to make solar panels that are cheaper, more efficient and less toxic to the environment than regular panels, tried to commercialize the technology in the United States, state and federal bureaucracies stalled its progress. Natcore president Chuck Provini said that attempts to work with elected officials, for instance, rarely got past staff members. Meanwhile, Chinese officials called Provini and offered to speed the project along. “We didn’t contact them. They contacted us,” said Provini, adding, “We wanted to do business in the United States, and we went to different agencies and we said, ‘Here’s what we have going on in China. Can you help us replicate this?’ And, frankly, we kind of rang on deaf ears.”

Officials in charge of developing China’s clean and alternative energy helped Provini find a production partner to provide capital and manufacturing capabilities and create 250 to 400 jobs. “They’ve cut through the red tape to be responsive,” Provini explained. “It’s almost embarrassing that whatever you ask for, they deliver it.”

Way to Go
Richard Butler, 30, was minutes away from proposing to Bethany Lott, 25, when she was killed by lightning while hiking up a mountain in Madison County, N.C. “I had a ring in my pocket, and I was going to ask her to marry me,” said Butler, who suffered second-degree burns from the strike.

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