The Sign Language Interpreter at the Mandela Memorial Was a "Fake"
Tuesday's massive Mandela memorial in South Africa gave the Internet plenty to talk about: There was Obama's rousing speech itself, his much-noticed (and, in some spheres, heavily freaked-out-about) handshake with Raul Castro, and of course his three-way selfie with a pair of European prime ministers. And now this, via the Associated Press:
A man who provided sign language interpretation on stage for Nelson Mandela's memorial service, attended by scores of heads of state, was a "fake," the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa said on Tuesday. The unidentified man seen around the world on television next to leaders including United States President Barack Obama "was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for," Bruno Druchen, the federation's national director, told The Associated Press.
Druchen along with three other sign language experts say the man in question wasn't signing in South African or American sign language. They also say they can rule out any other known sign language because there appeared to be absolutely no structure to the way he was waving his arms and hands around during the speeches. (Another giveaway, experts say, is that the man used no facial expression to convey the emotions of the speaker, a key element in signing.)
As bizarre as the whole thing is, maybe the craziest part about the whole thing is that it doesn't appear to be the first time the man has passed himself off as a professional signer: Druchen says the same man pulled a similar stunt at an event last year that was attended by South African President Jacob Zuma.
Ukraine Police Storm Protester Camps in Capital
Thousands of Ukrainian police stormed an anti-government protest camp in Kiev early Wednesday morning setting off another round of skirmishes. Police dismantled barricades in the city’s Independence Square as protestors shouted “Shame!” and “We will stand!”
The chaotic scene came on the heels of Western diplomats arriving in the city for meetings with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the New York Times reports, “in an effort to defuse both the country’s slide into a political chaos as well as a deepening financial crisis.”
Here’s more from the streets of Kiev from the Times:
As the security forces spread throughout the square, a large crowd of protesters brandishing sticks, clubs, metal rods and anything else they could find massed in front of the Trade Unions Building, which leaders of the demonstration had turned into the headquarters of what they call the National Resistance. Fistfights and shoving matches broke out on streets that the demonstrators had slicked with water that swiftly turned to ice… Protesters in construction hats, bicycle helmets and other protective gear then rushed toward the police, with blows being landed by both sides. The police also began deploying canisters of tear gas, creating plumes of smoke around the swirling crowds.
The protests began last month when President Yanukovych withdrew from a free-trade deal with the European Union that would have deepened the country’s ties with the bloc, tilting the former-Soviet republic towards Western Europe and away from Russia. According to the Associated Press, “Moscow has worked aggressively to derail the deal with the EU and lure Kiev into its own economic group by offering price discounts and loans as well as imposing painful trade restrictions.”
There was no apparent reason for the police advance on the square, according to the Times.
Uruguay Goes All in, First Country to Legalize Entire Marijuana Industry
Uruguay’s Senate, on Tuesday, approved the legalization of marijuana in the country—including the growing, sale and smoking—making it the first nation to sanction all aspects of the pot industry. Previously, the use of marijuana was legal in the South American country, but cultivation and sale of the drug were not.
The newly passed, government-backed bill will now provide for government regulation of all aspects of the marijuana trade with an eye on “wresting the business from criminals,” according to Reuters. “The bill gives authorities 120 days to set up a drug control board that will regulate cultivation standards, fix the price and monitor consumption.” Uruguayan president Jose Mujica is a supporter of a legal national market for marijuana, but the measure has yet to win over a majority of the 3-plus million people in the country. A recent poll, Reuters reports, found that 58 percent of Uruguayans are opposed to legalization.
Here’s more from Reuters on what the law will look like on the ground once it goes into effect:
Cannabis consumers will be able to buy a maximum of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) each month from licensed pharmacies as long as they are Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 and registered on a government database that will monitor their monthly purchases. When the law is implemented in 120 days, Uruguayans will be able to grow six marijuana plants in their homes a year, or as much as 480 grams (about 17 ounces), and form smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that can grow up to 99 plants per year. Registered drug users should be able to start buying marijuana over the counter from licensed pharmacies in April.
In the Ultimate Super Bowl Buzzkill Tailgating is Banned Before the Big Game
For fans, football is a sport of rituals. One of those rituals, for the intrepid fans daring to leave their sofa and actually go to the game, is tailgating. You know, arriving hours and hours before the game, setting up minivan-sized grills and going to town on burgers and beer. The Super Bowl is obviously the football game to end all football games; so, you might reasonably expect it is also the granddaddy of all tailgate parties. But, this year at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, you’d be wrong. There will be no tailgating at all.
That’s not to say you can’t eat and drink, after all, this is America. But you’ll have to keep it to yourself. Think of it more as a standing, shivering pregame picnic in a parking lot. The news of the tailgate buzzkill came from Super Bowl committee CEO Al Kelly in a press conference on Monday.
"You will be allowed to have food in your car and have drink in your car," Kelly said. "And provided you're in the boundaries of a single parking space, you'll be able to eat or drink right next to your car. However, you're not going to be able to take out a lounge chair, you're not going to be able to take out a grill, and you're not going to be able to take up more than one parking space. And it'll all be watched very carefully."
In the end, that won’t be that much of a problem for most Super Bowl attendees because they won’t be able to drive, much less spread out and feast. Of the 80,000 ticket holders there will be fewer than 13,000 parking spots for fans. The limited space is due to the large security perimeter that will be set up around the stadium.
How is one to get to the game then? "You cannot walk to the Super Bowl," Kelly said. So that’s out. You also can’t get dropped off unless you have a parking pass, which sort of defeats the point. The only other options for actually getting to the game are New Jersey Transit and a $50-plus shuttle from nine locations around the region.
Former TV Actress Pleads Guilty to Sending Obama Ricin Letter
A former actress pleaded guilty to sending letters laced with the toxin ricin to President Obama on Tuesday. In a plea deal that would limit her prison term to 18 years, former actress Shannon Guess Richardson entered a guilty plea in a federal court in Texas to a charge of possessing and producing a biological toxin, the Associated Press reports.
Richardson’s case is an unusual one in that, according to prosecutors, it was part of a plot to frame her estranged husband who had recently filed for divorce. In June, Richardson mailed three letters containing ricin, which is deadly when inhaled, and then told police her husband was the culprit. According to court documents, the letter to Obama read: "What's in this letter is nothing compared to what ive got in store for you mr president. You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns. Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face." The two other letters were sent to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mark Glaze, the director of Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns advocacy group.
Richardson, who played small roles in “The Walking Dead” and “The Vampire Diaries” tv series, was arrested in June after, according to the AP, prosecutors noticed inconsistencies in her statements and later discovered she had purchased the materials to produce ricin online. According to the AP, Richardson “acknowledged in a signed plea agreement document filed Tuesday that she ordered castor beans online and learned how to process them into a substance used to make ricin.”
Obama, Two Other World Leaders Snapped a Three-Way Selfie in South Africa Today
I'm guessing this has to be one of the most high-powered selfies ever snapped. That's President Obama, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and British Prime Minister David Cameron at today's Mandela memorial in Johannesburg, where more than 90 heads of state gathered—along with tens of thousands of South African mourners—to pay their respects.
I can't wait to hear whose idea this was, but for now all we have is the Getty caption:
US President Barack Obama (R) and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a picture with Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt (C) next to US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) during the memorial service of South African former president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium (Soccer City) in Johannesburg
As I am certainly not the first person to point out (really, Twitter may be even more worked up about this than the Obama-Castro handshake that almost made Drudge's head explode this morning), Michelle Obama appears less than amused at her husband's version of a Selfie at a Funeral*—although her attention may simply be elsewhere. It could be worse for the first lady, of course: Cameron or Thorning-Schmidt could have asked her to hold the camera.
*although to be clear, today's gathering in Johannesburg was a memorial, not a funeral.
This post has been updated.
The U.S. Auto Industry Is Getting Its Very First Female CEO
Some big news out of the American auto industry this morning, via the Associated Press:
General Motors product development chief Mary Barra has been named the company’s new CEO, the first female head of a U.S. car company.
Barra, 51, will replace Dan Akerson on Jan. 15. Akerson, chairman and CEO, moved up his retirement plans by several months because his wife, Karin, is battling advanced cancer, the company said in a statement Tuesday. With the decision, the GM board separated the board chairman and CEO positions. Barra will get a seat on the board, but Director Theodore (Tim) Solso will succeed Akerson as chairman. Solso formerly was chairman and CEO of engine maker Cummins Inc., and has been on GM’s board since June of 2012.
Barra, who has spent more than three decades with General Motors since joining the company as an electrical engineering co-op student in 1980, will be the auto giant's fifth CEO in less than five years, and the first since 2009 that wasn't appointed by the Treasury Department.
Her name had long been rumored as a possible CEO candidate, and she was said to be on a short-list that included a handful of other GM executives, including North American VP Mark Reuss, vice chairman Steve Girsky and CFO Daniel Ammann, according to the Detroit Free Press. (At least some industry watchers had pegged Reuss as the front-runner for the position; he will instead take over Barra’s job as executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain.)
Still, the writing may have already been on the wall for the past several months. Barra's current job is considered by some, as the AP points out, the most important job in the company. She's in charge of design, engineering and quality of the company's entire global fleet, and has overseen most of GM's recent new vehicle rollouts. And, as the Detroit News points out, Akerson may have tipped his hand back in September when he told a women's business group that he thought it was "inevitable" that one day a woman would lead one of Detroit's Big Three automakers.
That day, it turns out, will be January 15th.
NASA Finds a New Coldest Place on Earth
A little consolation for those of us who bundled up in every coat we own this morning in a bid to stay warm: It could be worse. Much, much worse.
NASA announced this week that it has found a new coldest place on Earth (and much to my surprise it's not Iowa City). After analyzing more than three decades worth of satellite data, researchers found that temperatures plummeted to record lows dozens of times "in clusters of pockets near a high ridge between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji, two summits on the ice sheet known as the East Antarctic Plateau." The new all-time record low recorded was an almost unimaginable minus-135.8 degrees Fahrenheit—for the metric lovers among us, that's minus-93.2 degrees Celsius—set on Aug. 10, 2010. (The same area came close to breaking that record again on July 31 of this year, when the temperature dropped to minus-135.3 degrees.)
As Ted Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, explained yesterday, those temperatures are about 50 degrees below anything you'd see in Alaska or Siberia, and closer to what "you'd see on Mars on a nice summer day in the poles."
The previous frosty record-holder on the books was the minus-128.6 degrees Fahrenheit set in 1983 at the Russian Vostok Research Station in East Antarctica. For comparison, the coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth is in northeastern Siberia, where two towns, Verkhoyansk and Oimekon, dropped to minus-90 in 1892 and 1933, respectively. More on today's announcement over at the NASA website.
Watch Obama Deliver a Powerful Speech at Mandela's Memorial in South Africa Today
In a cold and rainy day in Johannesburg today, tens of thousands of South Africans—and nearly a hundred heads of state—gathered today at FNB stadium to remember Nelson Mandela as a transcendent figure who changed history. Millions more around the globe were expected to be watching on TV from home. "It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you," President Obama, using Mandela's tribal name, said in a speech that drew thunderous applause and a standing ovation from the crowd. "He changed laws, but also hearts." You can watch Obama's full speech above.
Are All of Your Photo Memories Actually Making You Forget?
We’ve all done it; we’ve all taken a zillion pictures on that beach vacation or at a wedding. And why not? It’s easier than ever with a camera burning a hole in our pockets at all times. Not to mention, it’s not just easier to take the well-timed photo, it’s easier than ever to share our Instagrammed lives. But is all that memory-making actually making you forget? A new study in the journal Psychological Science says it's quite possible.
The study, which set out to find out how taking photographs impacts our memory, used undergraduate students as subjects. The students were led on a tour around a museum and instructed to photograph certain objects and simply observe others. The following day their memory of what they'd seen, and clicked, was tested. The result was what the study’s author, Linda Henkel of Fairfield University, describes as the “photo-taking-impairment effect.”
If participants took a photo of each object as a whole, they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects’ locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them.
Henkel found that there were exceptions to the click-and-forget phenomenon—when you zoom in, rather than taking your standard wide-angle shot.
…when participants zoomed in to photograph a specific part of the object, their subsequent recognition and detail memory was not impaired, and, in fact, memory for features that were not zoomed in on was just as strong as memory for features that were zoomed in on.