Monday, October 18, 2010

Extra, extra: In Other News, online

Posted By on Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 9:00 AM

In this week's installment: The Vegas "death ray," zero gravity beer and why mayonnaise is more dangerous than snow.

Curses, Foiled Again
Police investigating a convenience store robbery in Ferndale, Mich., by a man wearing a plastic Darth Vader mask identified Jamie C. Hernandez, 41, as their suspect after the store’s surveillance camera clearly showed him putting on the mask before pulling a butcher knife on the clerk.

Albanian authorities arrested two men trying to drill a passageway into a bank vault from a store they had rented above it. The noise from the drilling alerted authorities, Tirana police chief Tonin Vocaj said, noting, “We moved in when they were in the last stages of finishing the tunnel.”

Dangers of Night & Day
Using artificial lighting at night increases the risk of insect-borne disease for humans, according to Brazilian researchers, who observed that light pollution alters human and insect interactions. The scientists concluded that nighttime lighting lets people stay outside longer, increasing their exposure to insects attracted to artificial lights, possibly because the lights signal the presence of humans. Even when disease-carrying insects don’t bite people directly, they may bite pets and animals that co-exist with humans and can pass along disease-causing parasites.

Solar rays bouncing off the gleaming glass of a Las Vegas high-rise hotel pose a risk of severe burns to people lounging at the pool. Local media, as well as some staff and guests at MGM Resorts International’s Vdara hotel and condominium, which opened last December, refer to the reflection off the concave-shaped building as the “death ray,” although MGM Resorts officials prefer the term “solar convergence phenomenon.” The firm installed high-tech solar film over each of the 3,000 glass panes covering the Vdara’s south façade, hoping to scatter the rays, but the concentrated sunlight remains hot enough at times to melt plastic and singe hair—and penetrate shade. “My back and the back of my legs started burning, and I ran under a nearby umbrella,” said William Pintas, 49, a Vdara condo owner who first encountered the death ray after a dip in the pool. “And I’m under the umbrella, and there is no shading from the light or heat.” Pintas, who happens to be a lawyer, said he could even smell his hair starting to burn.
Not everyone is unhappy about the situation, MGM Resorts official Gordon Absher reported. On cooler days, he has seen sunbathers deliberately lay their blankets on the convergence spot for additional warmth.

Drinking-Class Hero
Anticipating a boost in space tourism, Australian researchers are hurrying to launch the world’s first beer to be certified for consumption in zero gravity. The beer, a joint venture by the space engineering firm Saber Astronautics Australia and Australian 4 Pines Brewing Company, is to begin testing on board Zero Gravity Corporation’s modified Boeing aircraft, which flies a series of parabolic arcs that simulate weightless environments. Flight crews will record data on the beer’s taste and its effects on the body.
Although NASA has sponsored studies on space beer and whether it can be brewed in space, current policy forbids alcohol consumption in the International Space Station. In 2006, the Japanese brewery Sapporo teamed up with Japanese and Russian researchers to create a beer, called Space Barley, brewed from barley grown from seeds that had flown for five months on the ISS.

Overreactions
Police charged James Lee Frank, 49, with making terroristic threats and threatening to use weapons of mass destruction after he became upset with his son’s performance in elementary school and wanted to withdraw the boy from a certain class. Police said Frank called the school, located in West Sunbury, Pa., and threatened to blow it up and kill the staff. Officials immediately placed the school on lockdown and called state police, who found knives on the front seat of Frank’s car after he tried unsuccessfully to enter the building.

Kenneth E. Bonds, 45, admitted shooting a 17-year-old boy in the buttock because the youth refused to pull up his sagging pants. Police in Memphis, Tenn., said that Bonds yelled at the victim and a 16-year-old companion to pull up their pants, then pulled a semiautomatic pistol from his waistband and fired one shot at the 17-year-old, missing him. The youths ran away, but Bonds fired more shots, one of which hit the victim.

Missing the Mark
The anti-abortion group Americans United for Life aired a political ad in Colorado that denounced Ken Salazar for supporting health care reform, claiming the measure would overturn a ban on taxpayer-funded abortions. Actually, Ken Salazar’s older brother, Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., is running for re-election. Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator, is the secretary of the interior. As for the ban, President Barack Obama already signed an executive order affirming it.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled a television ad opposing West Virginia senatorial candidate Gov. Joe Manchin III because it depicted the state’s residents as hicks. The ad, filmed in Philadelphia after a casting call seeking actors with a “hicky blue collar” look, shows men in flannel shirts and baseball caps posing as West Virginia voters worried that Manchin will side with President Obama if elected.

Next Time, Try the Snooze Button
Fire investigators blamed a house fire in Niagara County, N.Y., on an electric alarm clock beneath a pile of clothes.

Food in the News
A load of mayonnaise that fell off the back of a truck in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture caused an eight-vehicle pile-up that injured three people. “What probably happened is that cars traveling behind the truck squashed the bottles of mayonnaise, spreading it on the road,” police official Masaaki Miyazaki said, adding that the dressing’s eggs, vinegar and oil make it “more slick and dangerous than snow.”

Heavy rains have ruined South Korea’s cabbage crop, causing a kimchi shortage that has driven up the price of the national dish and created a black-market cabbage trade. The city government of Seoul responded to the crisis with a kimchi bailout program, absorbing 30 percent of the cost of about 300,000 heads of cabbage that it bought from farmers. South Korea’s government announced a temporary reduction in tariffs on cabbage and radishes imported from China, although consumers fear a recurrence of a 2005 crisis, where Chinese-made kimchi products were contaminated by parasite eggs.

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