Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Oct. 30 2014 11:32 PM

Crash Test Dummies Are Bulking Up to Try to Keep America’s Overweight Drivers Safe

America has a super-sized weight problem—one in three Americans are obese.  And while the country’s ever-expanding waistlines create many well-documented health dangers, there’s one hazard you might not expect: Obese drivers are far more likely to die in a car crash. To help isolate exactly why that is, America’s crash test dummies are about to get a potbelly.

“Studies show that obese drivers are 78 percent more likely to die in a car crash,” Chris O'Connor, the head of the only U.S. producer of the dummies, told ABC News. Part of the problem, O’Connor says, is safety features in cars—such as seat belts and air bags—were designed to protect thinner people and the crash test dummies designed to test whether those features actually worked are similarly based on an outdated, svelte American driver. “O’Conner said crash-test dummies are now typically modeled after a person who weighs about 167 pounds with a healthy body mass index,” according to ABC News. “His company is designing new dummies based on the measurements of a 270-pound person with a BMI of 35, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other health groups, consider morbidly obese.”

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Oct. 30 2014 8:17 PM

Suspected Cop Killer Is Caught After Seven-Week Manhunt

After a 48-day manhunt U.S. marshals captured suspected cop killer Eric Frein on Thursday. Frein, described by police as a survivalist, is accused of killing a Pennsylvania state trooper and seriously injuring another officer in an ambush on Sept. 12.

The capture of Frein—who was among the FBI’s most wanted—brings to a close a manhunt that stretched for weeks and involved as many as 1,000 officers at times, according to CNN. “Frein was described as a survivalist and expert marksman who role-played as a Serbian soldier,” according to USA Today. “Firing from woods across from the barracks, the gunman used a high-powered rifle to kill Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wound Trooper Alex Douglass during shift change.”

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Here’s more on the how authorities tracked Frein down from the Associated Press:

Police said they linked him to the ambush after a man walking his dog discovered his partly submerged SUV three days later in a swamp a few miles from the shooting scene. Inside, investigators found shell casings matching those found at barracks as well as Frein's driver's license, camouflage face paint, two empty rifle cases and military gear. Saying Frein was armed and extremely dangerous, officials had closed schools and urged residents to be alert and cautious. Using dogs, thermal imaging technology and other tools, law enforcement officials combed miles of forest as they hunted for Frein, whom they called an experienced survivalist at home in the woods.
They pursued countless tips and closed in on an area around Frein's parents' home in Canadensis after he used his cellphone to try contacting them and the signal was traced to a location about 3 miles away. At times police ordered nearby residents to stay inside or prevented them from returning home… Police spotted a man they believed to be Frein at several points during the manhunt, but it was always from a distance, with the rugged terrain allowing him to keep them at bay. Police said he appeared to be treating the manhunt as a game.

Federal officials say Frein was captured in a hangar and was armed at the time.

Oct. 30 2014 6:40 PM

Navajo Nation Presidential Contender Disqualified Over Language Fluency Requirement

One of two runoff candidates for the presidency of the Navajo Nation—which is the largest Indian tribe in the United States and is set to receive a $554 million settlement from the federal government—has been ordered disqualified because he may not fluently speak the Navajo language, a requirement for the office. From NPR:

In a 2-to-1 vote, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ordered Deschene off the ballot last week. Then the Navajo Nation Council voted to change the language requirement in an 11-to-10 vote, retroactively, so that Deschene could continue running. On Tuesday, that legislation was vetoed by current Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly.
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Deschene, a Marine veteran who has law and engineering degrees, admits he is not a master of the language, but says he can communicate using it and would become fluent if elected. The issue has come to a head in recent weeks after an Aug. 26 primary. From the New York Times:

Last month, the tribal Supreme Court upheld the language requirement, saying it was crucial to maintaining Navajo culture, and ordered Mr. Deschene to take a fluency test.
He refused, saying he was proficient in the language and objecting that the test had never been used before and was illegitimate. Tribal officials then disqualified him from the race, and the court on Thursday ordered him removed from the ballot and replaced with the candidate who finished third in the primary.

In another twist of the crisis, NPR reports, the Nation's election commissioner has refused to actually reissue new ballots without Deschene's name—and early voting has already begun. Developing!

Oct. 30 2014 5:18 PM

Researcher With History of Disputed Amelia Earhart Discoveries Says He Definitely Has Part of Her Plane

Ric Gillespie is a pilot and former aviation insurance investigator who for the last several decades has advocated the theory that Amelia Earhart, on the day she disappeared during her around-the-world journey, crash-landed on a tiny Pacific island called Nikumaroro 350 miles away from her intended target. Gillespie isn't a quack, but his explanation of Earhart's disappearance and death (he presumes she died of thirst or hunger after being stranded on the island) is far from universally accepted. He's collected a number of intriguing artifacts on Nikumaroro, but his finds have never been definitive. When the New Republic profiled Gillespie two years ago, reporter Jesse Zwick wrote that the Earhart-ologist is as much a storytelling dreamer as a researcher:

“If [Earhart]'s a pioneer in something,” Gillespie told me near the end of my visit, “she and her husband were pioneers in media manipulation.”
When I spoke with Gillespie’s critics, I was struck by how much their descriptions of him echoed his own description of Earhart. “I think he’s a genius,” Susan Butler told me...“I understand why he does it—I think he’s having a wonderful time. He’s getting other people to bankroll a wonderful way of life. Nikumaroro is a gorgeous island. And I think he must also believe it.” Indeed, Gillespie’s search, the way in which his gifted showmanship has overshadowed the dubiousness of his discoveries and long odds of success, may be the most fitting tribute that the world could offer Earhart on the seventy-fifth anniversary of her death.
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Gillespie and his organization, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), are planning another of their Nikumaroro trips for next year. And, perhaps not coincidentally, they've just announced that they "strongly" believe a scrap of metal found on the island—which had previously been shown not to match the material used to make Earhart's plane—is in fact a makeshift patch that was installed over what had been a window. You can see TIGHAR's analysis at its website; it's probably too technical for the layman to make a judgment on, but with the attention that the announcement has gotten via Wired, Discovery News, and other science-y outlets, outside specialists will no doubt weigh in. And either way, Gillespie and his group say their trip next year could uncover the fuselage of Earhart's plane, which they believe they might have found (via sonar image) under 600 feet of water near the island.

One of TIGHAR's sponsors, incidentally? FedEx, whose affiliation with Gillespie actually predates Cast Away by four years.

Oct. 30 2014 2:29 PM

Islamic Conservatives Add Creationist Content to Pakistani Science Textbook

Buried in a Reuters story about an Islamic-conservative makeover of textbooks in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a nugget that will remind Americans of their own country:

Another official said a physics book for teenagers would include Koranic verses regarding the creation of universe and ecosystem.
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Other changes include the removal of all images depicting women without headscarves and the replacement of information about non-Muslims such as Helen Keller with content about Muslims.

Oct. 30 2014 1:17 PM

Thomas Menino, Boston’s Longest-Serving Mayor, Dies at 71

Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, an old-fashioned machine politician who became the city's longest-tenured mayor ever—serving from 1993 until last year and never winning election by less than 15 percent of the vote—died today of cancer. He was 71.

From the Boston Globe:

“Visionaries don’t get things done,” he once said, crisply separating himself from politicians who gaze at distant horizons and imagine what might be. Leaving to others the lofty rhetoric of Boston as the Athens of America, he took a decidedly ground-level view of the city on a hill, earning himself a nickname for his intense focus on the nuts and bolts of everyday life: the urban mechanic.
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Menino was hospitalized with a broken leg three days before the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, but he checked himself out to make public appearances in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. He rose from his wheelchair to speak at a service commemorating those who died:

Perhaps his most significant stand on a national issue came in the the 1990s, when Menino—the city's first mayor of Italian ancestry—marched in Boston's gay pride parade but not South Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade, which excluded LGBT groups.

A remarkable fact from the Globe's obit:

More than half of the Bostonians who responded to a 2008 Globe poll said they had met him personally.

The city's population is more than 600,000.

Oct. 30 2014 12:07 PM

After Burkina Faso President Tries to Extend 27-Year Reign, Rioters Set Parliament on Fire

Blaise Compaoré, the president of the West African nation Burkina Faso, has been in office since 1987—and recently introduced plans to allow himself as many as three more five-year terms. The move has set off rioting in the country's major cities. From the Guardian:

Hundreds of people broke through a heavy security cordon and stormed the National Assembly building in the capital Ouagadougou, ransacking offices and setting fire to cars, before attacking the national television headquarters and moving on the presidential palace. One man was reportedly killed.
Lawmakers were due to vote on the legislation that would allow Compaoré – who took power in a 1987 coup – to contest next year’s election...
The ruling party headquarters in the second city of Bobo Dioulasso and the city hall were also set alight by protesters, witnesses said.
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The term-extension vote, scheduled for today, has been canceled. Compaoré won an election in 2010 with 81 percent of the vote; the next presidential election is in 2015.

Oct. 30 2014 10:39 AM

Sweden to Become Largest Western European Country to Recognize Palestinian State

Sweden is expected to officially recognize Palestine as a state today, becoming the largest Western European nation to do so (and only the second overall, after Iceland in 2011). Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven had announced plans to make the move earlier this month, but after Israeli objections said recognition would only occur after discussions with Israel's government. From Haaretz:

However, during a debate of the Swedish parliament’s foreign affairs committee on Monday, Loefven said that recognition of Palestine as a state was going to happen shortly. On Wednesday Israel discovered that recognition was to be bestowed far earlier than expected.
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Sweden's foreign minister published a piece about the decision today in the Swedish publication Dagens Nyheter. Sweden's goals, she says, are to support moderate Palestinians within Palestine, give leverage to the country in its negotiations with Israel, and give "hope and belief" to Palestinian youth that it will be possible to attain an ultimately satisfactory agreement with Israel without the use of violence.

Click here to see a map of the 130 countries—which constitute most of South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East—that now recognize Palestine. Among European Union member nations (Sweden is one but Iceland is not), Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary also recognize a Palestinian state.

Oct. 29 2014 9:34 PM

The Inventor of the Game Operation Now Needs Help Affording an Operation of His Own

Fifty years ago John Spinello invented the hit game Operation, but now the 77-year-old needs help paying for a real life operation of his own. Despite the popularity of his invention, the $25,000 price tag for oral surgery is out of reach for Spinello, who sold the rights to Operation before it was first released for $500. To help cover the medical costs, friends of Spinello turned to crowdfunding for help.

“[Spinello] has had a good life, but has admitted to us that he is struggling to pay his bills and is in need of a medical procedure without sufficient insurance coverage,” the Crowdrise funding page reads. Spinello says he’s not broke, but has had a run of bad business luck. "Look, everyone needs medical care," Spinello told the Huffington Post. "I prefer not to dwell on that aspect and focus more on the joy that the game has brought to so many over the years."

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Here’s more from HuffPo on Spinello’s creation of Operation:

Spinello invented Operation while he was an industrial design student at the University of Illinois. The Bloomington resident was tasked to come up with an electric game where the object was to insert a metal wand into holes without touching the metal edges of the openings. "I got an A," Spinello said.
A family friend was so impressed that he helped Spinello get a meeting with Marvin Glass, a leading toy designer who gave the world novelty products like fake vomit and wind-up chattering teeth. He was also the force behind such classics as Mouse Trap and Lite Brite. "I walked into his office and I put it on his desk. I said, 'You have to take this probe and go through the maze and see if you can complete it,'" Spinello explains in a video about the campaign.
Glass didn't seem impressed until he touched the wand to the metal plate. "It went 'BLATTT' and a spark jumped out of the stylus," Spinello said. "He threw [the stylus] up in the air and says, 'I love it! I love it!'" Glass offered the young college student $500 -- about $3,771 in 2014 dollars -- and the promise of a job upon graduation in exchange for all the rights to the game. But the job offer didn't happen. "I did get the two checks -- eventually," Spinello said. "I had to call for them."

One of the friends who started the Crowdrise page, Tim Walsh, says the gamemaker Hasbro, who owns the rights to Operation, has supported the cause by allowing them to use the game’s logo and image for fundraising. Spinello is also trying to raise money by selling autographed copies of the game and plans to auction off the original prototype of Operation.

As of Wednesday night, the Crowdrise page had raised just over $21,000.

Oct. 29 2014 7:47 PM

Nurse Says She Won’t Obey Ebola Quarantine; Maine Looks to Enforce Mandatory Isolation

Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox has returned home to Maine after briefly being quarantined in New Jersey upon her arrival from West Africa. That doesn’t mean she intends to stay there however. Hickox, who is currently in voluntary quarantine, has threatened legal action against the state if it tries to enforce an extended mandatory quarantine. “If the restrictions placed on me by the state of Maine are not lifted by Thursday morning, I will go to court to fight for my freedom,” Hickox told NBC’s Today show on Wednesday.

State officials, however, are preparing to enforce a mandatory quarantine of the Doctors Without Borders nurse, who recently spent time in Sierra Leone fighting the Ebola outbreak there. Maine Gov. Paul LePage said that if Hickox was “unwilling” to abide by the state’s 21-day quarantine policy—which would keep her isolated until Nov. 10—the state would seek a court order to quarantine her.  

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"Hickox has agreed to daily monitoring, as recommended in updated Ebola guidelines released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” according to the Washington Post. “That involves twice-daily temperature readings and daily in-person visits with a CDC official.” Hickox has not shown any symptoms of the virus and while the CDC recommends restricted movements for non-symptomatic individuals with Ebola exposure, it does not call for isolation. “I truly believe this policy is not scientifically nor constitutionally just, and so I’m not going to sit around and be bullied around by politicians and be forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public,” Hickox told the Today show.

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