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Fri, 14 Aug 2020
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Pistol

Americans Buy Record Numbers of Guns for Christmas

Image
© Alamy
Americans bought record numbers of guns last month amid an apparent surge in popularity for weapons as Christmas presents.

According to the FBI, over 1.5 million background checks on customers were requested by gun dealers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in December. Nearly 500,000 of those were in the six days before Christmas.

It was the highest number ever in a single month, surpassing the previous record set in November.

On Dec 23 alone there were 102,222 background checks, making it the second busiest single day for buying guns in history.

The actual number of guns bought may have been even higher if individual customers took home more than one each.

Explanations for America's surge in gun buying include that it is a response to the stalled economy with people fearing crime waves. Another theory is that buyers are rushing to gun shops because they believe tighter firearms laws will be introduced in the future.

Cell Phone

Apple: Time to Make a Conflict-Free iPhone

I've witnessed firsthand the horror caused in the Congo by the militias' trade in minerals, which is why I'm petitioning Apple
Image
© Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images
Boys working at a copper mine in south-east DR Congo. Campaigners stress that rebel militias are being funded through corrupt metals trading.

My name is Delly Mawazo Sesete. I am originally from the North Kivu povince in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a deadly conflict has been raging for over 15 years. While that conflict began as a war over ethnic tension, land rights and politics, it has increasingly turned to being a war of profit, with various armed groups fighting one another for control of strategic mineral reserves.

Near the area where I grew up, there are mines with vast amounts of tungsten, tantalum, tin, and gold - minerals that make most consumer electronics in the world function.

These minerals are part of your daily life. They keep your computer running so you can surf the internet. They save your high score on your Playstation. They make your cell phone vibrate when someone calls you.

While minerals from the Congo have enriched your life, they have often brought violence, rape and instability to my home country. That's because those armed groups fighting for control of these mineral resources use murder, extortion and mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and control local populations, which helps them secure control of mines, trading routes and other strategic areas.

Dominoes

Chile arrests Israeli tourist for forest fire

Chile burning by israeli
© AFP
The fire has so far destroyed nearly four per cent of the total area of the national park
Prosecutor says traveler has acknowledged negligently allowing fire to start, burning 11,000 hectares of Patagonia park.

Chilean officials arrested and later released on bond an Israeli tourist suspected of causing a forest fire that burned more than 11,000 hectares in the country's Torres de Paine national park in Patagonia.

Regional prosecutor Juan Melendez identified the traveler as Rotem Singer, 23, and said the man had acknowledged a role in negligently allowing the fire to start deep in the south of the country.

The government deployed four planes and a helicopter to the remote mountainous region, where 300 firefighters, soldiers and forest rangers continued to battle the blaze.

The fire, which began on Tuesday, advanced rapidly in dry conditions, forcing authorities to evacuate 700 people, mostly tourists, from the park, which is located about 3,000km south of Santiago.

Singer acknowledged that he did not properly extinguish a roll of toilet paper he had been burning, Melendez said after a hearing in Puerto Natales.

But Singer's family say they believe he is innocent and was being used as a "scapegoat".

"He could not have caused this disaster," Hezi Singer, his father, told Israeli military radio. "He was a kilometre away from the fire when his friends woke him up."

Gear

US: New Year Brings New Attacks on Evolution in Schools

Evolution
© Public Domain
Naturalist Charles Darwin's first sketch of an evolutionary tree, found in the First Notebook on Transmutation of Species (1837).

The new year is bringing new controversy over teaching evolution in public schools, with two bills in New Hampshire seeking to require teachers to teach the theory more as philosophy than science.

Meanwhile, an Indiana state senator has introduced a bill that would allow school boards to require the teaching of creationism.

New Hampshire House Bill 1148 would "require evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism."

The second proposal in the New Hampshire House, HB 1457, does not mention evolution specifically but would "require science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes."

Innovation can indeed overturn old ideas, but the theory of evolution is too well-established to be tossed out like yesterday's garbage, scientists say.

"Bill 1457 turns skepticism into bewilderment," said Zen Faulkes, a biology professor at the University of Texas, Pan America. "It would ask teachers to say to students, 'Don't commit to the hypothesis that uranium has more protons than carbon,' or 'Remember, kids, tomorrow we might find out that DNA is not the main molecule that carries genetic information.' Evolution is as much a fact as either of those things, so it should be taught with the same confidence."

Attention

The Tortured Child Bride: Horrific Ordeal of Afghan Girl, 15, Rescued From Toilet Prison After Husband's Family Mutilated Her For Refusing to Work As a Prostitute

A teenage Afghan girl was brutally tortured, beaten and locked in a toilet by her husband's family for five months after she refused to become a prostitute, it emerged today.

Sahar Gul, 15, was in critical condition when she was rescued from a house in northern Baghlan province last week, after her neighbours reported hearing Miss Gul crying and moaning in pain.

According to police in Baghlan, her in-laws pulled out her nails and hair, and locked her in a dark basement bathroom for about five months, with barely enough food and water to survive.

Image
© Unknown
Cruel: Sahar Gul was brutally tortured by her husband's family.

Bizarro Earth

2012: Western Culture Obsessed with End of the World, not Ancient Maya

Mayan stone calendar
© Google Images
According to the Mayan calendar, a significant event will occur in 2012.
Our world is fascinated by prophecies of doom. Every day the media carry reports of predictions that the next year, decade, century or millennium will bring untold disasters. From a reading of current news headlines, this is difficult to argue against.

And now, we are bombarded by predictions of a disaster associated with what many say is the end of the Maya calendar. But did the Maya actually predict that the world as we know it will be destroyed by some unknown cataclysm on Dec. 21, 2012?

When the Maya abandoned their great cities in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador, they left behind large stone monuments with hieroglyphic writing. These inscriptions were very difficult to decipher as the writing system had not been used since the Spanish conquest when all, but four, of the books written by the Maya were burned. However, based on the four remaining books, early scholars were able to identify some of the gods and goddesses, the numerical system, and most importantly, parts of the calendar. Therefore, while they could not decipher the events recorded on the stone monuments, scholars could read the dates on which these events occurred.

Hardhat

US: For Second Night, Vehicles Are Set Ablaze in Los Angeles Area

LA Arsonist
© Dan Steinberg/Associated Press
Firefighters helped a man, and a cage of birds, out of his apartment as vehicles burned underneath in Sun Valley, Los Angeles.

After a night when nearly 20 cars were torched in Hollywood, in parking areas under apartment buildings or beside homes while people slept, area fire stations called in extra staff and increased patrols on Friday evening, awaiting a second strike, fire officials said.

Just after midnight, it came. By dawn on Saturday, more than a dozen additional cars had been charred in different neighborhoods, again, it appeared, because they were underneath or near people's homes, according to Capt. Jamie E. Moore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

"It's alarming," Captain Moore said, "especially since it is happening between midnight and 6 a.m., when people are sleeping."

Sgt. Keith Green of the Los Angeles Police Department said that no arrests had been made by Saturday evening but that more than one person had been detained and questioned. No one was seriously injured.

Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said that the fires appeared to be arson.

People

Fireworks, Hope and Worry as World Rings in a New Year, Leaving a Tough One Behind

Image
© Reuters/Mike Segarad
The New Year's Eve Ball, which measures 12 feet and weighs 11,875 pounds, and is adorned with 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles of various sizes is tested atop One Times Square in New York.
With glittering fireworks and star-studded celebrations from New Zealand to Times Square, the world eagerly welcomed a new year and hoped for a better future Saturday, saying goodbye to a year of hurricanes, tsunamis and economic turmoil that many would rather forget.

Revelers in Australia, Asia, Europe and the South Pacific island nation of Samoa, which jumped across the international dateline to be first to celebrate, welcomed 2012 with booming pyrotechnic displays. Fireworks soared and sparked over Moscow's Red Square, crowds on Paris' Champs-Elysees boulevard popped Champagne corks at midnight, and up to a million revelers were expected to jam New York's Times Square for the famed crystal-paneled ball drop.

But many approached the new year with more relief than joy, as people battered by weather disasters, joblessness and economic uncertainty hoped the stroke of midnight would change their fortunes.

"Once the ball drops, I won't give 2011 another thought," said Kyralee Scott, 16, of Jackson, N.J., whose father spent most of the year out of work. "It was a pretty tough year, but God was looking after us and I know 2012 has got to be better."

House

3.5 Million Homeless and 18.5 Million Vacant Homes in the US

homeless shelter
© Unknown
The National Economic and Social Rights Initiative along with Amnesty International are asking the U.S. to step up its efforts to address the foreclosure crisis, including by giving serious consideration to the growing call for a foreclosure moratorium and other forms of relief for those at risk, and establishing a housing finance system that fulfills human rights obligations.

New government census reports have revealed disturbing information that details the cold, hard numbers of Americans who have been deeply affected by the state of our economy, and bank foreclosure practices:
In the last few days, the U.S. government census figures have revealed that 1 in 2 Americans have fallen into poverty or are struggling to live on low incomes. And we know that the financial hardships faced by our neighbors, colleagues, and others in our communities will be all the more acutely felt over the holiday season.

Along with poverty and low incomes, the foreclosure rate has created its own crisis situation as the number of families removed from their homes has skyrocketed.

Since 2007, banks have foreclosed around eight million homes. It is estimated that another eight to ten million homes will be foreclosed before the financial crisis is over. This approach to resolving one part of the financial crisis means many, many families are living without adequate and secure housing. In addition, approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless, many of them veterans. It is worth noting that, at the same time, there are 18.5 million vacant homes in the country.

The stark realities that persist mean that millions of families will be facing the holidays in temporary homes, or homes under threat, and far too many children will be wishing for an end to the uncertainty and distress their family is facing rather than an Xbox or Barbie doll.

Housing is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. Yet every day in the United States, banks are foreclosing on more than 10,000 mortgages and ordering evictions of individuals and families residing in foreclosed homes. The U.S. government's steps to address the foreclosure crisis to date have been partial at best.

The depth and severity of the foreclosure crisis is a clear illustration of the urgent need for the U.S. government to put in place a system that respects, protects and fulfills human rights, including the right to housing. This includes implementing real protections to ensure that other actors, such as financial institutions, do not undermine or abuse human rights.
There is a link available at the Amnesty International website for anyone who is interested and would like to join the call on the Obama administration and Congress to urgently step up efforts to address the foreclosure crisis, including by seriously considering the growing call for a foreclosure moratorium and other forms of relief, and establishing a housing finance system that fulfills human rights obligations.

Alarm Clock

2012 - On The Eve Of Destruction?

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Happy 2012?
Here we are, New Year's Eve 2011, and a whole lot of folks on this planet believe that the World is going to End - one way or another (again) - sometime in December of the coming year: 2012. All I can think is "Geezus! Here we go again!"

Back in 1996 and 1997, there was the Hale-Bopp Flopp that resulted in the mass suicide of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate Cult. I was out there at the time desperately trying to convince people that most of what was flying around the internet was a load of Horse Hockey, and all I got for my trouble was flamed and defamed. But I was right.

Then, there was the Millennial Madness that was gaining steam in 1999. By this time, we had a website and I wasn't just doing battle on discussion lists, so I published an article in November of that year trying to calm things down a bit. Things were so weird then that even my cousin, who was (at that moment) an aerospace engineer employed by NASA, told me in full confidence that things WOULD get squirrely because there was a flaw in computer dating systems and the global computer systems would glitch up in unpredictable ways, causing chaos. Not even that happened! Anyway, the take-home message of my article at that time was pretty clear: