Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Conveniently Dying

"A detective is following up to make sure nothing suspicious occurred with her death. We're making sure everything is above board."
"Unfortunately, the victim passed away and this may change things for us with the state attorney and what charges they can proceed with. Grand theft may be out the window."
Captain Jeff Trylch, Palm Beach Police

"As long as we have sufficient factual basis, we will proceed. If we are missing an element that only the victim could provide, the state would then have to decide whether or not to proceed."
"We aggressively prosecute cases regardless of the economic or social standing of those involved."
Mike Edmondson, spokesman, Florida state attorney
Nancy Tsai, Stephen Lindsay, Helga Marston in 2009. Tsai is accused of defrauding Marston.
Carrie Bradburn/Lucien Capehart Photography Nancy Tsai, Stephen Lindsay, Helga Marston in 2009. Tsai is accused of defrauding Marston.
 
In some ways this is a tale of two women born to relatively humble circumstances whose beauty and skills carried them into the higher echelons of society through felicitous marriages to wealthy older men. It is also a tale of one generation joining an earlier generation, both finding much in common within the scope of their life experiences and their attraction to high society and philanthropy, which high society venerates almost as much as social celebrity.

Two women, the first born in Romania who moved to New York in 1962 where she married an investment banker who died in 2004, leaving her immensely wealthy as a widow. "We've been lucky. There has been no heart disease in our families, they died simply from old age, at 93 and 94", Helga Marston was reported to have said in a social column dating to 1985. She died herself a few days ago, at age 92, and it could be said that age took her, but Alzheimer's had the first shot.

She was a great good friend of another woman quite like herself; beautiful, intelligently accomplished, wealthy by inheritance of marriage, moving comfortably in elite social circles, and having the distinction of founding the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as being involved in advancing the arts, though of a later generation of her friend Helga Marston. Nancy Tsai, originally from small-town Ontario, also married well, not once but twice, first to a millionaire, then a billionaire.

They had been friends for many decades, growing old/er together, leaving one just past her prime, the other advanced into the status of the elderly frail. While Nancy Tsai retained her cerebral function intact, her older friend Helga Marston succumbed to Alzheimer's, her mind increasingly absent while her body strove to match her genetic familial history's penchant to long life. Helga trusted Nancy, and so Nancy had Power of Attorney of the older woman's estate, then became a Trustee.

The trouble was, the financial institution with which Nancy Tsai registered her friend's trust saw some alarming irregularities which concerned them and they, most uncharitably, but with an eye to their reputation, called in the police to investigate. It seemed to them evidently, unreasonable that while Ms. Marston languished during her end-of-days in a health-care facility (hospice), her trusted friend proceeded to make some peculiar investments on her behalf.

As, for example, by withdrawing $2,292,000 from Helga Marston's account for the purchase of a penthouse apartment; $302,000 to renovate that apartment; $270,000 to take possession of a Bentley Continental GT V8 coup; and $101,200 to pay for a 2013 Mercedes S550, an executive sedan. Jetting to Toronto and back, the sole passenger on a private jet, charging shopping and expensive restaurant invoices to the trust, that kind of, ahem,' irregularity'.

Palm Beach Police Captain Trylch looked up financial records, sought medical opinions and interviewed a cast of witnesses, all the while keeping in mind Ms. Marston's vulnerable state of health, teetering between being "on another planet" mentally in the words of a medical specialist, and departing this planet to remain permanently on that other planet whose plane of being we have no idea about.

"It is why we tried to move as expeditiously as possible", he explained. And so, he as lead investigator, established from the interview with that same doctor that Ms. Marsten's awareness simply was absent, she had "zero" mental capacity. Astonishingly, though that was the reality it would appear she managed somehow to approve legal and banking documents providing Ms. Tsai with access to her millions.

Even more amazing, in March of 2013, Ms. Marston amended her will, naming as beneficiaries Nancy Tsai and her daughter. A handsome inheritance indeed. And imagine, this is how peculiarly fortune would have it; a trusted, long-time friend who bought a costly property and vehicles to enrich her elderly friend's lifestyle, will now inherit it all.

Pure, blind luck!

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Brazilian fisherman finds satellite launch debris in Amazon

BBC News online -- 30 April 2014
Space debris in Brazil's Amazon region The metal panel was floating on the Uriandeua river, in Brazil's northern Para state
A fisherman in Brazil's Amazon region has found a large piece of debris from a European space launch.

The man said he found the metal object floating on a remote river in the municipality of Salinopolis.
The debris has been confirmed as coming from a satellite launched from the Kourou base, in neighbouring French Guiana, last July.

The piece bears the logo of the UK Space Agency and Arianespace - the European satellite company.
A spokeswoman for the UK Space Agency, Julia Short, confirmed that the debris was from the launch of Europe's largest telecommunications satellite last year.

"It is the launch vehicle payload shroud from the Alphasat launch last year. It probably landed in the Atlantic and then floated inland,"

Alphasat, described as Europe's most sophisticated telecommunications satellite, was launched from the Kourou base on 25 July.

Brazilian authorities in northern Para state said they would contact the UK Space Agency and ask them to collect the object.

According to local reports, it took more than 10 people to retrieve the panel from the riverbank.
Space debris in Brazil's Amazon region The UK Space Agency logo was clearly visible on the panel
Space debris in Brazil's Amazon region Residents, policemen and rescue workers took selfies next to the unusual find
Space debris in Brazil's Amazon region The fisherman who found the debris said the authorities initially did not believe him
 
"It is big, the size of a car," local resident Gilson dos Santos told O Globo.
Residents have been told to report immediately any symptoms of illness, but rescue teams do not believe the wreckage is radioactive.

The local fisherman who came across the unusual catch - 73-year-old Manuel Alves dos Santos - said the authorities initially did not believe him.

"It hit my fishing line and I pushed to the bank of the river to see what it was. It is the first time I see something like that," he told O Liberal newspaper.

The object was found on Saturday night, but according to residents the authorities failed to respond to their initial calls.

Recovery teams only arrived in the area after the finding was reported in the media.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Grieving

"The Catholic undertaker volunteers were wiping the fingers and toes of the kids, ever so gently and carefully, as if they were bathing a baby."
"In the end, the kids became pretty again. I'm glad they met adults that they could be thankful to before leaving this world."
Jung Hye-shin, South Korean psychiatrist, Jindo, South Korea
Image: A relative weeps before yellow ribbons at Jindo harbor

They sit and they wait. They wail forlornly through the prevailing quiet shattering the solitude and peace of those quietly anguishing in their own grief, and then silence again prevails. There are no conversations, for there is nothing to say. If there were something to look forward to, something to give them the joy however, brief of hope, some animation might enter their haunted, hollow eyes, but there is nothing and so they say nothing.

They are drained, emotionally emptied of any anticipation of the future. For some, the future has died. For others the future will be a dim, dark void. For others, the future will represent coping as best they can. Time heals all wounds, we are informed, and perhaps it does, since time also brings the peace of not knowing, in death that will visit all living organisms. It was just that their time was too short, they were only, after all, still in their formative years.

Image: People attend a memorial for the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry Sewol KIM DOO-HO / AFP - Getty Images  People attend a memorial for the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry Sewol at the Ansan Olympic memorial hall on Thursday. 
 
It is an astounding toll anywhere, for any group of people to come to terms with the reality that through a catastrophic set of circumstances, three hundred teens from the same town, same high school, embarked on a holiday trip, would meet such a fate. And it is not just their grieving parents, siblings and extended families who are mourning inconsolably; it seems that the consciousness of the nation has been wounded.

What else accounts for the fact that over 16,200 people have arrived in Jindo, on their own or representing close to 730 organizations. And that 690,000 aid items representing food, bottled water, blankets and clothing have arrived in Jindo since the sinking of the Sewol ferry with most of the teenagers on board, trying desperately to save themselves, sending messages of love to their parents in their last farewells.

People in their hundreds, some from aid groups, from private companies, from churches and other civil social groups pack roads where white tents sit near Paengmok port and a gym on the island, offering soup, kimchee, rice, hamburgers, taxi services, cellphone battery charging, laundry services, medicine, energy drinks, psychiatric help and little thoughtful necessities like underwear, socks, cotton swabs, toothbrushes.

No one is charged for anything, these are goods and services representing the soul of the nation, a compassion that is as wide and as deep as the ocean that holds the remains of their loved ones. The grieving families are too numb to do anything for themselves; their apathy and sorrow have sapped them completely. And so, the volunteers are there, not so much speaking, but proffering whatever is needed; comforting, mourning also.

Huge pots of hot kimchee soup are prepared, blankets distributed, along with towels and toiletries. Trash is collected, the grounds swept. Cab drivers from Ansan, where the high school students had come from, provide free-of-charge drives to wherever anyone might wish to go. "It's time to help those who are mourning. Giving up several days of work is nothing", said driver Ahn Dae-soo.

The owner of a Japanese restaurant arrived in Jindo from Daejeon to cook traditional beef soup for the mourners. He also serves other volunteers and journalists. Lim Jang-young, 58, closed his restaurant to arrive in Jindo; unable to focus on his business interests while thinking about the victims and their families, he finds some measure of relief being there, doing what he can to help, hoping that what he offers will provide some salve for wounded souls.

A Buddhist monk approaches a weeping mother sitting on the edge of windblown dock. He wipes away the tears from her face as she gives full vent to her grief and her hopeless longing for her missing son. The monk, Bul Il, leads her away from the edge of the dock, and chants Buddhist scriptures, sounding a wooden gong in a prayer for her son's return.

"They are really suffering", he said. He had come from the port city of Busan to help the families still awaiting word that their missing children have been retrieved from the sunken vessel. "It's painful for me to watch their misery", he said. Volunteers are warned that they must be aware at all times of the potential for provoking a backlash from the mourners. They must not smile, nor engage in small talk, attempt to take photos.



Young people who come to volunteer are dissuaded from presenting themselves for their presence will evoke more pain as their very youth reminds the deprived parents of what they have lost. Volunteers who appear youthful are awarded tasks that will keep them behind scenes.

One volunteer who had driven from the southern city of Suncheon to clean toilets and shower rooms at a gym where the families sleep said: "It's totally different from when I watched this on TV. I've become really solemn. I can't really express how I'm feeling."

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Severe weather threatens eastern US states

BBC News online -- 29 April 2014
One man described Monday's tornadoes as "a roaring freight train"
Severe weather is threatening as many as 73 million Americans in the eastern states, after two days of powerful storms killed up to 28 people.

Government forecasters have warned of severe thunderstorms from the Gulf of Mexico up to the Great Lakes.

On Sunday and Monday, tornadoes cut a broad track of death and destruction through the southern US states.

The storms flattened buildings, overturned cars, and left thousands of residents without power.
Aerial footage captured by a drone shows emergency vehicles and debris on a highway south of Mayflower, Arkansas

"Widespread thunderstorms are forecast across the central Gulf Coast region, with several severe [or]supercell storms possible," the National Weather Service wrote in a morning forecast.
Meanwhile, the search for survivors continues in the southern US states that were smashed by huge tornadoes on Monday and Tuesday.

Early on Tuesday, residents of Louisville, Mississippi crept from their shelters to find their homes demolished by a tornado that punched holes in the roof of a local hospital.

A fierce storm blew a freight train off its tracks in Illinois

The storm and the tornadoes it spawned killed as many as eight people in Mississippi on Monday, including a woman who died when driving her car during the storm in Verona, south of Tupelo.
'Start all over' 
 
Giles Ward huddled in a bathroom with his wife and four other relatives as a tornado destroyed his brick house and overturned his son-in-law's four-wheel-drive parked outside his home in Louisville.
"For about 30 seconds, it was unbelievable,'' said Mr Ward, a Republican state senator. "It's about as awful as anything we've gone through."

The mayor of Tupelo, Jason Shelton, told CNN the damage from the storms was widespread and "devastating". A 21:00 local time (02:00 GMT) curfew was in place on Monday.

Power went out in much of the city as lines went down and trees were torn up by the storm, the US National Weather Service reported.

In Limestone County, Alabama, two deaths were confirmed by the coroner's office and four deaths were reported, although unconfirmed, elsewhere in the county.
Emergency crews search for survivors in Louisville, Mississippi (29 April 2014) Emergency crews searched for survivors in the rubble early on Tuesday in Louisville, Mississippi
Gloucester Street in Tupelo, Mississippi (28 April 2014) Gloucester Street in Tupelo was decimated
 
As many as 16 people were killed on Sunday, including 14 in the towns surrounding Little Rock, Arkansas, with Mayflower and Vilonia bearing the brunt of the damage.

Many homes and businesses, including a new secondary school worth $14m (£8.3m), were left in ruins in Vilonia after the storm.

"There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again," said Vilonia schools chief Frank Mitchell after inspecting the wreckage of the school.
The death toll may yet rise as crews search the wreckage of destroyed buildings.

"We're trying to make sure everyone is accounted for," Brandon Morris, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, told the Associated Press news agency.

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said the storm "may be one of the strongest we have seen".
A travel trailer sits in the rubble of a house in Mayflower, Arkansas (28 April 2014) A trailer was overturned in Mayflower, Arkansas
People search through the rubble of destroyed houses a day after a tornado hit the town of Vilonia, Arkansas (28 April 2014) People searched the rubble following a tornado strike in Vilonia, Arkansas
 
President Barack Obama, on a trip to the Philippines, offered his deepest condolences to those affected on Sunday and said federal emergency officials would be on the ground to help.
"Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild, as long as it takes," he said.
Scientists in Oklahoma are working on implementing new technologies to study tornadoes
Map of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas

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You Light Up My Gas

The entire universe in blog form
April 29 2014 7:30 AM

You Light Up My Gas

Star formation is a seriously gorgeous business. Just look at Gum 41!

That picture above is from the European Southern Observatory’s MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope in Chile (wanna see the ginormous 4,000 x 4,000 pixel version? Yes. Yes, you do.). It used filters that more or less mimic what the eye sees, with an added filter that only lets through the light of warm hydrogen gas—that’s the pervasive red glow in the nebula.

Gas like that is a pretty good sign that somewhere nearby, stars are being born … and it’s hard to miss that blue one right in the center of the roughly circular nebula. That star is called HD 100099, and it’s actually two stars in a tight orbit (far too small to be separated on the scale of this picture). Both stars are monster O-types, meaning they are far, far more massive than the Sun, far hotter, and ridiculously brighter. Either one would be enough to light up the gas around it, but both together blast the gas with vast amounts of ultraviolet light. This heats the gas up, exiting the atoms in it, which respond by glowing with that characteristic and quite lovely red hue.

What results is a classic shape called a Strömgren sphere, named after the astronomer who worked out its physics. The overall shape is roughly spherical, because the edge is defined where the light from the central stars weakens enough that it can no longer excite the gas. There is gas outside that region, but it’s not lit up so we can’t see it.

Not only that, but both stars blow out a fierce wind of subatomic particles, like the solar wind but much more powerful. This carves a cavity in the center of the gas, an expanding bubble snowplowing the material outside it. If you look more closely at the center region you see bright ridges where the wind slams into the surrounding gas, compressing it and making it glow even more brightly:
The star formation region Gum 41
Photo by ESO
Together, these processes give this cloud a shape something like a flower, but one a dozen light years across and thousands of light years away.
Running chicken
Do you see the 50-light-year-high running chicken?
Photo by Marco Lorenzi, used by permission
The nebula was discovered by astronomer Colin Gum (hence the name) and is part of a much larger complex of star-forming gas called IC 2944, also called the Running Chicken Nebula, due to an apparently drug-induced interpretation of the shape looking like the jogging fowl. Interestingly, I thought it was part of the foot, but I’ve seen others say it’s the chicken’s wingtip. I suppose Gallus domesticus is in the eye of the beholder.

Anyway, as you can see, the whole region is littered with glowing gas. It takes massive, hot stars to excite gas like that, and those kinds of stars don’t live very long—a few million years at most. Compare that to the 4.6 billion year age of the Sun and you can see why we call them “young.” And that’s how we know to look for red gas when we want to find stellar nurseries! They’re like neon signs (literally) pointing us to the youngest stars in the galaxy. If you’re looking for amazing science, big red nebulae are what you can look for.

And if you’re looking for beauty, it’s the same. But that’s true for so much of astronomy, and one of the many reasons I love it.

Related Posts
Jaw-Dropping Rotating 3-D Nebula (Yeah, you wanna click that)
An Ionized Rose Would Smell as Sweet
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Strömgren Sphere

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Holocaust Remembered: Testimony

Holocaust survivors are a dwindling breed. They are elderly survivors of the modern century's blot on humanity. In its cold-blooded and determined sweep, institutionalized organization and rationalization the Holocaust represents the single most horrific attempt at genocide that has yet succeeded in a world gone mad with hatred.

The odiously wretched indecency of world leaders gaining knowledge of the extermination of Europe's Jews and deciding it was simply too inconvenient to grapple with the issue -- particularly at that time, and particularly as no one wanted to add to their nation's already onerous number of Jews -- gave their stamp of indifference to the cynical Nazis who knew there would be no interference with their resolute march partnering the Angel of Death.

The death camps were well considered with respect to their placement. Nazi officials involved in the Europe-wide venture to dehumanize Jews through slandering caricature as a venal, deceitful, controlling and vicious underclass of society striving to achieve dominance on the world stage of politics, economics and news promulgation, succeeded in deepening already-existing anti-Semitism. They understood where best to place the work camps, detention camps, death camps.

Among conservative, rural populations where that very specific kind of racism was already deeply entrenched.

Among the multitudes of disinterested bystanders preferring ignorance of knowledge of the proceedings to involving themselves in any manner to decry the inhuman isolation, victimization and slaughter, emerged a coterie of individuals who with their families quietly and with huge compassion risked their all to aid wherever and whenever they could those among them who were destined for slaughter; enabling some to survive the dreadful human-made cataclysm.
Detail from drawing by Warsaw Ghetto and death camp survivor Morris Wyszogrod of SS Untersturmfuhrer Reinhold Feix, commander of Budzyn camp, strangling a prisoner with the reins of his horse in 1943. - Photo:
"I remember looking down and I happened to be standing on my grandmother's tombstone. The Germans walked among us and anytime they saw a mother with a child, they tore the child from her arms and threw them into the back of trucks."
"I looked around and I just said 'Mother, this is where we are going to be separated."
"I didn't even feel it when the Germans hit me but every time they struck my mother and brother it was like they were cutting my flesh."
Asher Aud Sieradski, 86, (Poland)
"They asked me what my name was and I said 'Romka Vochick'. That is the name that saved me." Two sisters, 8 and ten fleeing the Nazi invasion of their hometown of Buchach, Ukraine. For years they hid, sleeping in fields, subsisting on scraps of food given them by non-Jews. They were eventually caught on the street and handed to the Gestapo. She lied; her sister couldn't bring herself to do the same. "She had an accent and was afraid." And so, she died.
Ester Koffler Paul, 82, (Galicia, Ukraine)
"I remember the scary things. I remember crying and being so hungry that I couldn't fall asleep."
"They burst into the house and started to search for documents, turning over furniture and tearing down wallpaper. One soldier stood and stared at me. I sat frozen, not daring to move. I was so frightened I almost couldn't breathe. Then came a Dutch policeman who was accompanying the German soldiers and he told the soldier that he saw something in another room. By luring the soldier away, he probably saved my life."
Jacob Philipson Armon, 76 (The Netherlands)
"The first thing they did was beat us and separate the women from the men. It happened so quickly, I couldn't even part from my mother and sister."
"I remember him [his father] begging: 'I am still young, I can run, I can work'. But it didn't help and I couldn't say farewell to him either."
"The hardest part is not having a Jewish grave for my parents in which to honour them."
Shmuel Bogler 84 (Hungary)

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Parental Discretion in Child Welfare

"Christine was so kind, she thought she'd take the pit bull for a week or so to help out the owner's family."
Beatrice Mushanga, Ottawa resident
Cali Leclair was rushed to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in serious but stable condition Sunday morning after being attacked by a pit bull in the family home. Here Cali is shown with her mother Christine Leclair.
Facebook    Cali Leclair was rushed to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in serious but stable condition Sunday morning after being attacked by a pit bull in the family home. Here Cali is shown with her mother Christine Leclair. 
 
A woman with a good heart, and obviously an animal lover, Christine Leclair, mother of a 14-month-old toddler, and owner two large family dogs that were familiar with the child, thought she would do a good turn. She would relieve a neighbour of the concern of having a volatile-tempered dog of a breed known to becoming dangerously out of control under certain circumstances, around his own small child whom that same dog that already once bitten.

No doubt the dog owner, who resisted surrendering the dog to a rescue or rehabilitation group, was feeling much relieved; his problem was temporarily shelved, and might be resolved with some space while he did a little bit of introspection, to decide which he valued more; his vulnerable young child or the dog obviously in need of some stern, professional guidance.

Christine Leclair must have thought that her good heart was as likely a tonic for an aggressive dog as someone schooled in the handling of such an animal. After all, she already had two large complacently well-behaved dogs, didn't she? The Province of Ontario had instituted a ban on pitbull type dogs, back in 2005.

It is now illegal to own, import or breed an American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier or similar breed canines. Those who were already in ownership of pit bulls before the ban came into effect were permitted to retain their companion pets, but knew that they had to be neutered or spayed, and muzzled and leashed in public.

    Trust

There has long been a public backlash against the ban. Those who love all dogs, believe that even though these breeds that have been cultured for aggressiveness and have an inborn tendency to attack -- and with their genetic endowment of a strong, clenching jaw are potentially dangerous in the training hands of the wrong type of individual; a sociopath for example, intent on transforming a pet into a canine terrorist -- can be taught to be gentle.

The family had taken in the dog named Boss, on Saturday. And the first day seemed to go very well. It was the following day, Sunday, when the little girl, Cali Leclair, moved toward the pit bull terrier to pat it. "The baby went to pet the dog -- the dog was laying down -- and the dog snapped; it bit her right on the face", explained a neighbour, and a close friend of the child's mother.

When the mother was unable to pry the dog's jaws off and away from her child, she called her husband in desperation, and the husband was finally able to perform the task. Paramedics rushed the little girl to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in serious, but stable condition that morning. The pit bull had torn the little girl's nose from her face, inflicting deep puncture wounds exposing bone.

The dog was taken into custody and its fate is fore-ordained.

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The Backstory

"Our situation was aggravated by our displacement in Africa for many years after fleeing our home country of Somalia because of war conditions. As a result, my son was not able to receive any formal education before we immigrated to the United States."
Abdulahi Yusuf, Somali immigrant to United States

"What people need to understand is that these young teens are coming from a country torn by a civil war with no basic education and suddenly put in these high schools or elementary schools where they have a cultural shock."
"This whole thing should be looked at in the context of a teen who is emotionally attached to his mom and grandparents.  ...The father is working 24 hours a day to take care of family here and other family members in the Horn of Africa."
Talha Nooh, Muslim Community Association San Jose, California

A 15-year-old boy, seen sitting on a stretcher center, who stowed away in the wheel well of a flight from San Jose, Calif., to Maui is loaded into an ambulan...
A 15-year-old boy, seen sitting on a stretcher center, who stowed away in the wheel well of a flight from San Jose, Calif., to Maui is loaded into an ambulance at Kahului Airport in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii Sunday afternoon, April 20, 2014. The boy survived the trip halfway across the Pacific Ocean unharmed despite frigid temperatures at 38,000 feet and a lack of oxygen, FBI and airline officials said. FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu told The Associated Press on Sunday night that the boy was questioned by the FBI after being discovered on the tarmac at the Maui airport with no identification. "Kid's lucky to be alive," Simon said. (AP Photo/The Maui News, Chris Sugidono)

This is a boy who made the news. Media around the world were alerted that a young boy had managed to survive in the wheel well of a jetliner that flew for over five hours, with him hanging on. Somalia has been in the news for quite a long time; it has well earned its reputation as a failed state. Violent Islam has made a giant footprint in that country, and there are few signs it will be diminishing any time soon. Somalia made the news for the years that its nationals turned to piracy on the high seas.

It made the news when a UN peacekeeping mission UNOSOM I was temporarily suspended to allow a multinational force known as the United Task Force (UNITAF) led by the United States in an operation named Operation Restore Hope led to the chaos and instability that brought the United Nations back with UNOSOM II, which itself led to the episode known as Black Hawk Down.

This is the story of a 15-year-old Somali youth whom incessant war in his home country displaced along with his family. In Muslim societies children become the 'property' of the father in a marital dispute. And so, the boy lived with his father along with his siblings, and moved with his father to the United States in 2010. Over one million Somali refugees live in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen, neighbouring Somalia.

This family sought their future in the United States; not all refugees who apply are accepted as Abdulahi Yusuf and his children were. The boy was under the impression that his mother was no longer alive. And then he learned that she was living at a refugee camp in Ethiopia for displaced Somalis.

The boy's mother spoke in an interview with Voice of America: "I know he was looking for me, and I am requesting the U.S. government to help me reunite with my kids." Her ex-husband, she said, without her knowledge or consent took their three children to California, and she had received no word of them since 2006. He had told their children their mother was dead.

"Every day he was telling me: 'I miss Somalia, I miss my mom. He just wanted to see his mom", said a teenage friend in California, speaking of his friendship with the shy, religious boy. Members of the Muslim community in California stated that the family is taking advice from the Council on American-Islamic Relations steering them in communication with law enforcement, social workers, the media and medical providers.

CAIR is certain to manipulate the issue in favour of the father whose plan to fly to Hawaii to be reunited with his son, still in  hospital there, leaves him "excited to bring him back home to his 'deeply concerned' family in California." The boy's mother, Ubah Mohamed Abdullahi, will likely only see her children again when they come of age, are independent, and make an effort to reunite with her, should she live so long.

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Mount Everest avalanche: 'We saw bodies brought down'

BBC News online -- 28 April 2014
Climbers at base camp at Mount Everest hoped to press on after the avalanche but they eventually had to leave Climbers at base camp at Mount Everest hoped to press on but they eventually had to leave

Many foreign climbers have left Everest base camp after sherpa guides cancelled ascents following an avalanche that killed 16 colleagues. Paul Valin was getting ready to climb the world's highest mountain when the avalanche struck on 18 April. The 32-year-old Frenchman, who has since descended, describes what happened.
I was preparing for many months to climb Mount Everest, and that dream was coming true for me when I reached the base camp on 17 April. I met with my team mates on the expedition. There were 12 of us in total.

The avalanche happened the very next day. It happened very early in the morning and as soon as we woke up around 7am, base camp was buzzing with news of the accident.
Frenchman Paul Valin was getting ready to summit Mount Everest when a deadly avalanche struck on 18 April Paul Valin is determined to climb Everest one day
 
We finally understood how big it was when we heard at least 20 people were caught up in it.
We heard that sherpas were going up the Khumbu Icefall and a ladder that was bridging a crevasse fell, so the way forward was blocked and they couldn't go further.

They ended up staying at a place that is considered quite dangerous, which you would never camp at normally.
It was horrible. We saw the bodies being brought down.

There was a mourning period for about four days, agreed between the Western expeditions and the sherpas, for about four days.

We were terribly sad, especially for our sherpas. Some of them had lost brothers in the avalanche.
They went back to their villages to be with their families while we stayed at base camp.

During that period we rested so that our bodies would get acclimatised. We also checked our equipment, made preparations for the summit, and did some short treks on the other side of the base camp.

About three to four expeditions gave up as they had lost sherpas or had sherpas who were injured. But there were still lots of other expeditions waiting to continue.

Avalanche survivor Kaji Sherpa is recovering after being buried for three hours under snow
Relatives of Nepalese climbers killed in an avalanche on Mount Everest, wait for the funeral procession to begin in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, April 21, 2014. Buddhist monks cremated the remains of Sherpa guides who were buried in the deadliest avalanche ever recorded on Mount Everest, a disaster that has prompted calls for a climbing boycott by Nepal's ethnic Sherpa community. Relatives of sherpas killed in the Mount Everest avalanche wait for a funeral procession to begin in Kathmandu, Nepal on April 21
A Buddhist monk lights the funeral pyre of Nepalese mountaineer Ang Kaji Sherpa, killed in an avalanche on Mount Everest, during his funeral ceremony in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, April 21, 2014. Buddhist monks cremated the remains of Sherpa guides who were buried in the deadliest avalanche ever recorded on Mount Everest, a disaster that has prompted calls for a climbing boycott by Nepal's ethnic Sherpa community A Buddhist monk lights the funeral pyre of a Nepalese sherpa killed in the avalanche
Relatives of mountaineers, killed in an avalanche on Mount Everest, cry during the funeral ceremony in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, April 21, 2014. Buddhist monks cremated the remains of Sherpa guides who were buried in the deadliest avalanche ever recorded on Mount Everest, a disaster that has prompted calls for a climbing boycott by Nepal's ethnic Sherpa community. Relatives of sherpas killed in the avalanche weep at a funeral ceremony in Kathmandu, Nepal

Our sherpas who had left came back on the 22nd.
Most of the other expeditions' sherpas also came back because they need to make money during the climbing season, which can last two to three months, to pay for their children's school fees and other necessities.

The next day, there was a religious ceremony called a 'puja' to bless the expeditions.
Around the time of the ceremony, some of our sherpas as well as the sherpas of another bigger expedition received threats of physical harm and harm to their families.

These people making the threats wanted to shut down the mountain. They were a small group of individuals who we heard were linked to political actors.

The day after, it was confirmed our expedition would not continue. Our sherpas didn't want to go on and we respected that.

Climbers at base camp hoped to press on
Expeditions' tents pitched at base camp. Climbers at base camp hoped that despite the avalanche, they could continue with the summit, but they eventually had to leave

As of Friday, we understood that all the expeditions are shut down. Most of the climbers have left. This was despite the government saying that the mountain is open for business.

There are media reports saying expeditions are leaving because it's not safe, but that's not true. Overall, the ice is not worse than the year before.

There are icefall 'doctors' as well who are people who make sure the roads are taken care of and safe to travel. But we heard they could not do their job because of pressure and threats.

The expedition team made a lot of effort to prepare and now we are not summiting. We are really quite sorry this has happened.

It's like getting into a boxing ring, ready for the match after a year of preparation, and the match is suddenly cancelled.

I don't plan on trying to get a refund on the money I've spent so far, as most of the costs have already been incurred. But I hope to come back next year.

I still love adventuring and the mountains, and I still want to achieve this dream.
I will climb Mount Everest one day.

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Deadly tornadoes devastate US states

BBC News online -- 28 April 2014
Building were destroyed while vehicles and caravans were thrown into the air

At least 17 people have been killed by tornadoes as a huge storm system swept across the central and southern United States.
Sixteen of the victims were in several suburbs of Little Rock in Arkansas, officials said.

One other person was killed in the town of Quapaw in the north-east of Oklahoma where officials said many buildings were badly damaged.
Tornadoes also struck in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri.

President Barack Obama, on a trip to the Philippines, offered his deepest condolences to those affected and said federal emergency officials would be on the ground to help: "Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild, as long as it takes."

'Mass casualty situation' Most of the casualties were in suburbs west and north of Little Rock. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said 10 people died in Faulkner County, five in Pulaski County and one in White County.

Mayflower and Vilonia, two small towns in Faulkner County, appear to have borne the brunt of the damage. In Vilonia, the County Sheriff's office spoke of a "mass casualty situation".

The Arkansas tornado touched down about 10 miles (16km) west of the city of Little Rock and left a 40 mile (65km) path of destruction.

It is said to have passed through several northern suburbs - including Mayflower where a witness described a twister half a mile wide crossing Interstate 40 on Sunday evening, the National Weather Service said.

A flipped pickup truck is reflected in water after a tornado destroyed the town of Mayflower, Arkansas on 27 April One tornado left a 40 mile (65km) trail of destruction
A damaged house is seen after a tornado hit the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, on 27 April Many vehicles and buildings were wrecked in the town of Mayflower
A view of a damaged home after a tornado hit the town of Mayflower on 27 April Winds ripped through foundations blowing entire homes away
 
Congressman Tim Griffin told Reuters news agency an "entire neighbourhood of 50 homes or so" in Faulkner County had been destroyed, with many "completely gone except the foundation".

Many homes and businesses, including a new secondary school worth $14m (£8.3m), were left in ruins in Vilonia after the storm.

"There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again," said Vilonia schools chief Frank Mitchell after inspecting the wreckage of the school.

Map of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas
First reports from Oklahoma said two people had died in Quapaw but officials later revised the figure down to one. Another six people were injured.

Quapaw, which has a population of about 900, was badly hit by the tornado, Ottawa County Emergency Management director Joe Dan Morgan said.

"Looks like about half of town got extensive damage as well as the fire department," he said.
The tornado then headed northwards into the state of Kansas where it struck Baxter Springs, injuring several people and causing further damage.

Over the weekend, storms struck the eastern part of the US, killing a child in North Carolina.

Damaged building in Main Street, Quapaw. 27 April 2014 Buildings on Main Street in Quapaw were damaged
Baxter Springs, Kansas. 27 April 2014 Baxter Springs, Kansas, was hit by the same tornado that struck Quapaw
Twisted trees in Baxter Springs, Kansas. 27 April 2014 Trees were ripped apart by the storm in Baxter Springs

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Abandonment by the 'Nicest Person'

"For those who are using our Incheon-to-Jeju ferry, I can tell you that the next time you return, it will be a safe and pleasant [experience]. If you follow the instructions of our crew members, it will be safer than any other means of transportation."
Captain Lee Joon-seok, 2010 interview statement to media 

"He was generous, a really nice guy. He was probably the nicest person on the ship."
"The captain is very old. But he should have made sure that the crew could escape before he escaped."
Oh Yong-seok, South Korean ferry Sewol helmsman

Mr. Oh very much appreciated the kind personal touches in his relations with the Sewol's captain, always asking how his wife and children were. And always prepared to give personal and professional advice. "Although we had no conversation about personal stuff, he was a nice guy" another helmsman on the Sewol Park Kyung-nam agreed, in speaking of the captain.

Both men, Park and Oh, were on the bridge with the captain as the ship sank, each of them thinking it might either be the captain's age or the fact that he had accidentally crashed into a bridge door, possibly injuring himself, that caused him to leave the ship so peremptorily, before any responsible ship's captain would, making for extenuating circumstances.

Captain Lee, along with at least ten of his crew are under arrest on suspicion of negligence and what seems obvious enough, that they abandoned people in need. The captain denied abandoning ship, insisting evacuation was delayed because of legitimate safety concerns. Those concerns, and the delayed action arising from them most unfortunately, led to the deaths of almost three hundred teens.

The sunken Sewol was a 7,000-ton ship, with a passenger capacity of 921. The owner, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd., had three captains on their payroll, including Captain Lee, each taking control of Sewol ten days a month as another captain went on vacation, according to an official at Incheon Regional Maritime Affairs & Port Administration.

Captain Lee, according to a Chonghaejin official, had the longest sailing career of the three. He had sailed the route between Incheon and Jeju from 2006 to the present. "Pain in the left rib and in the back, but that was it", said Jang Ki-joon, director of the orthopedic department at Jindo Hankook University where Captain Lee was treated post-rescue.

In an earlier 2004 interview with Jeju Today during which time Captain Lee was captain of another Incheon-to-Jeju ferry, he spoke of a fright he had experienced working on ocean freighters before becoming a ferry captain. "The first ship I sailed on was a hardwood ship that flipped over in waters near Okinawa, Japan. The Japanese Self-Defence Forces saved me with their helicopters. If I hadn't been saved then, I wouldn't be here today", he reminisced.

That was more than enough of a brush with death to cause him to reconsider life on the high seas. "When I got caught in a storm at sea, I told myself I would never get on a ship again. But the human mind is cunning. After getting over one crisis, I would forget about such thoughts, and I've been sailing on ships until this day", he stated in that 2004 interview. Captain Lee, then was no stranger to a near-death experience at sea.

At the back of his mind there surely always lurked a certain type of caution and concern. He was fortunate, rescued by Japanese Self Defence Forces. A helicopter rescue was mounted and he lived to see another day, in fact many other days. In contrast, divers in South Korea are experiencing a dread search for bodies in wretched circumstances. Their trauma will be lifelong and far more awful than Captain Lee's.

Watch this video

They must grope their way cautiously through the corridors and cabins of the sunken vessel, for visibility is hugely compromised both by the dark water, the interior of the vessel and copious sediment that obscure light from flashlights. Darkness is almost total inside the ferry flipped upside down on the sea floor. Sightlessly, the divers must grope with sensitive hands on outstretched arms into the void in their search for bodies.

The water is freezing, it is a hostile, dark environment where bodies suddenly appear, floating in the murky water, buoyed by life-jackets, bloated by decomposition. Yet peering closely at the faces of what were once young, vibrant human beings one sees etched fear and shock. The divers must also be cognizant of compromises to their own security in their dives, that their lifeline, a 100-metre compressed hose could be snagged or slit as they venture deeper through the wreck.

Watch this video

"They can see the people's expressions at the instant" of sinking. "From the bodies' expressions, you can see they were facing danger and death", said Hwang Dae-sik, supervisor of a team of 30 divers for the Marine Rescue and Salvage Association. "Just imagine a room that is flipped. Everything is floating around, and it's hard to know exactly where they are."

"I got around by fumbling in the darkness to try to find things with my hands", one civilian diver, Cha Soon-cheol said. He spent five days searching underwater. He was exhausted from swimming against the current. They are the heroes of this monumentally sad tragedy. The villains are yet to be fully revealed.

Divers jump into the water on April 21 to search for passengers near the buoys which mark the site of the sunken ferry. Divers jump into the water on April 21 to search for passengers near the buoys which mark the site of the sunken ferry. Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd. no longer takes calls from the media. An official with the company refused to respond to questions from reporters posed to him from the company's Incheon office on Tuesday. Little wonder they have become mute. At last report it was revealed that the Sewol was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons of cargo; three times what an inspector stated it could carry with safety.

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Potty Training Your Puppy or Dog – Housebreaking

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Potty Training Your Puppy or Dog – Housebreaking

Potty Training Your Puppy or Dog – Housebreaking

When it comes to potty training your puppy or dog the best approach is a holistic approach the considers all supporting elements…
Get a Routine In-Place to Support Potty Training Your Puppy or Dog

Your puppy’s or dog’s potting training  routine should look similar to this -
Potty breaks times are…
  • First thing in the morning
  • After every meal , and/or
  • After drinking substantial amounts of water
  • After playtime
  • Mid-day
  • Early evening
  • Before bedtime
Bedtime – Don’t set Puppy up for Failure
  • Puppy needs time for his/her balder to grow so if you are allowing puppy to drink water an hour or less before bedtime Puppy may not be able to make it through the night
  • Restrict water consumption an hour before bedtime
  • By doing so you help set your puppy or dog up for potty training success, not failure
After-Meal Routine
  • After your puppy or dog eats let him/her outside for a potty training break
  • And again 15 minutes after that if he/she did not seem to eliminate the first time
  • Offer the next ‘potty break’ a half hour to an hour after that
  • Over time elongate this to two or three hours
Be Efficient Rather than Rushed and Anxious
Set a good example…
  • If you feel anxious around potty time your dog will acquire the anxiety you are projecting
  • You want potty time to be a normal activity not an abnormal one
  • Move efficiently, matter-of-factly – normally to the door rather than anxiously and in a rush
  • Remember dogs learn by example just as people do, dogs acquire stress and anxiety just as people do
Don’t Punish Your Dog for having a Potty Training  ‘Accident’
If your dog has an ‘accident’ in the house never punish your dog. Doing so can lead to stress and anxiety for your dog – which will ultimately lead to additional stress for you. You don’t want your dog to develop anxiety around eliminating as doing so can lead to an escalation of behaviour issues and can also cause health issues now and later on in life.
If Your Dog has an Accident in the House
Understand that the more fuss you make, the more stressful the situation will get, instead…
  • Take a big breath – let the tension go – normalize the situation put a structure in-place to move through the situation – don’t let your emotions take over
  • Lead , direct, show your puppy or dog out of the space – preferably to take him/her outside – assuming you have a fenced in area, or your dog knows to stay on your property
  • Allow your puppy or dog to stay out while you go back in the house to clean-up their stool or pee
  • If you are dealing with a puppy or a rescue dog that is not housebroken take the poop you have just picked up outside
  • Place the poop in the area where you want your puppy or dog to use as his/her ‘potty’ area
  • Let your puppy or dog sniff the poop (not eat it!)
  • Provided your pup or dog does not indulge in Coprophagia you can leave the relocated stool in the designated potty area for a few hours or a day
If Your Dog Goes Out – Comes In and Eliminates in the House 
If your dog goes outside – sniffs about, gets distracted, does not eliminate (pee or poop), then proceeds to come back in the house and eliminate – there are multiple possible causes, here are a few examples:
You May Have Let Your Dog or Puppy In Too Soon
If your puppy or dog seems to get distracted when he/she is outside and forgets to do what you have let him/her out to do (eliminate) just relax and leave your pup or dog out for a longer period of time. If your dog or puppy has a habit of escalating to high levels of excitement or fixation he/she may forget to eliminate.
Prevent Unwanted Excitement and Distraction
Provide structure – make your dog or pup work to go outside
  • Don’t just open the door and allow your dog or pup to run out and do not allow your dog or pup to press his/her self up against the door
  • Get his/her attention first, make sure that he/she is calmly sitting or standing away from the door, then make sure he/she is attentive – looking at your eyes, hold the look then indicate to your dog or pup that he/she can go out the door
  • You have to normalize the use of the outdoor space in your own mind before your dog can do so.
  • If you are anticipating that he/she will not use the outdoors you are creating an altered state of normal around the situation
  • If you are not comfortable your dog won’t be either – remember dogs are incredibly insightful when it comes to reading what you are really feeling and communicating
  • This means that your dog will literally and logically tune-in what you are emoting
If you want your dog to normalize the natural act of eliminating outside support him/her by normalizing the situation

Freedomis Good, or Is It?
It’s not if you have not taught your puppy how to handle the freedom. Don’t give a young puppy the run of the house when you don’t have time to supervise and guide puppy.

Who Decides What – Who Runs the House?
If your dog is ‘house trained’ but ‘likes’ to pee or poop in the house you have a bigger issue to deal with – your dog runs your household – not you. To resolve this issue you need to provide leadership to your dog in all areas of daily life. Once you do so properly your dog will stop eliminating in your home.

Insecurity
If your dog does long walking piddles and pees in your home, pees on the floor when excited or nervous your dog is simply insecure and needs the opportunity to have the support required to become a more confident canine. You need to learn how to better understand, communicate, and incorporate structure and leadership for your dog.

My Pit Bull x Boxer Robbie is a good example – Robbie had been abused prior to being surrendered to me. Robbie was aggressive-reactive and had zero confidence. He would do ‘walking pees’ in the house – typically a trail of urine ten to 15 feet in length. As I worked with Robbie and built his confidence the ‘walking pees’ became a thing of the past. You can read about Robbie here.

Become a Conscious Observer
A lot of puppies and dogs will tell their human ‘I need to go out’ but if you have not learned to consciously observe your dog you will not see the ‘ask’. Learning to see beyond casual assumptions is an important part of growing with your dog. Dogs are amazing communicators but if you fall for societal beliefs that say otherwise you will miss many opportunities to understand and respond effectively to your dog.

A puppy or dog with heightened sensitivity can become flooded by distractions. A puppy or dog that is experiencing stress and anxiety may either have ‘accidents’ or avoid going potty at times. Learning to turn heightened sensitivity into an advantage rather than a deficit is important for the short and long term health and happiness of your dog. Building grounded confidence in your puppy or dog by providing leadership is essential to eliminate stress and anxiety. You need to learn to communicate effectively and establish a good threshold of true patience within yourself.  It is important to understand the common factors that influence dog behaviour so you can avoid pitfalls and leverage your influence the right way.

Diet Matters
Make sure you are feeding your puppy or dog a truly appropriate diet. In regards to the issue of potty training a puppy you want to support ongoing development and optimal function of the brain, digestive and eliminatory system. Make sure your puppy is on a truly nutritionally complete and appropriate diet. If you are just feeding you puppy processed dry dog food your puppy’s diet is not nutritionally complete.

Breed Size Matters
Small dogs develop at a slower pace than large breed dogs. This means that a small dog’s bladder will take longer to grow than a large-breed dog’s bladder. Be patient and persistent but always be fair and remember that a puppy’s bladder needs time to fully develop.

And that is the scoop on the basics of potty training addressed from a holistic point of view.
how to potty train your puppy or dog

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Pain and Suffering

Sharlene Simon "has sustained and will sustain great pain and suffering" as well as "a severe shock to her system" resulting from 'the crash'."
"Her enjoyment of life has been and will be lessened."
Ontario Superior Court statement of claim

"My dead son and the boys are being sued by the woman that killed him because she is distraught."
"Normally, I would not react like this, but I think it's very cruel."
Derek Majewski, father of Brandon Majewski
Brandon Majewski died after being hit by a car while riding his bike on Oct. 28, 2012.
Brandon Majewski died after being hit by a car while riding his bike on Oct. 28, 2012.

Brandon Majewski 17,  and his friends, 16-year-old Richard McLean and Jack Roberts decided late on a fall Saturday night in 2012 to bicycle over to a coffee shop. That was in County of Simcoe, close to Barrie, Ontario. Returning to their homes about 1:30 a.m. on October 28, they were riding abreast along the two-lane paved rural road.

They were hit from behind by a Kia Sorrento driven by Sharlene Simon. Brandon was tossed by the impact over the car roof; when paramedics arrived he was barely living. Their efforts at resuscitation could not save him, and he was pronounced dead hours later at the Royal Victoria Health Centre in Barrie. His friend Richard was struck as well and later transferred to St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.


A shot of the scene on Innisfil Beach Road where Brandon Majewski, 17, died after being struck by a vehicle Oct. 28, 2012. (Zach MacPherson/QMI Agency File Photo)

Richard spent weeks recovering from his injuries. Jake had been knocked off his bicycle, but his injuries were not serious. When a collision-reconstruction team from the South Simcoe Police Service concluded their investigation and presented a 26-page report it found "lack of visibility" as "the largest contributing factor".

"The driver of the Kia did not see the cyclists on the roadway and was unable to make an evasive reaction", they concluded. A local Crown prosecutor, consulted by police, advised there was "absolutely no reasonable prospect of conviction and that no charges should be laid". Six months after the accident a despondent older brother Devon Majewski, died in his sleep from alcohol combined with pharmaceuticals.

Brandon's grieving parents feel that the three boys were blamed for the accident; that it was considered to be their fault since two of the bikes only carried "minimal reflectors", and because there were riding abreast with dark clothing (with reflectors), and since they weren't wearing helmets. "They're kids; they're allowed to make a mistake", commented Derek Majewski.

Venetta Mlynczyk, Derek's wife, Brandon's mother, complained to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director that one of the South Simcoe investigators was a friend of Sharlene Simon's husband, a police officer with the York Regional Police force. She had thought that the Ontario Provincial Police would be brought in to investigate the accident rather than proceed with an investigation that might be biased.

Brandon's mother had additional concerns, that Sharlene Simon's husband Jules had been following his wife home that night, perhaps concerned that she might have been drinking. Sharlene Simon had been driving at 90 km/h, above the 80 km/h limit, but was not required to take a breathalyzer test as "no grounds to request" one existed. A roadside screening device had registered "zero alcohol content in her blood system."

Brandon's parents launched a lawsuit last March against the Simons and Simcoe County for a total of $900,000. The suit charges that Sharlene Simon was speeding, under the influence of alcohol or distracted by texting at the time of the accident. That her husband Jules Simon had allowed her to drive the SUV despite that "he knew or ought to have known" she was in no condition that night to drive.

And then they discovered that Sharlene Simon, her husband, her mother and her three children have launched a lawsuit for over $1-million against Brandon's 'estate', and the two boys who were with him the night their little outing resulted in death for one of the trio, and a lifelong memory of dread and regret for the others.

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Astronomer Finds a Brown Dwarf Literally as Cold as Ice… and It’s Right Next Door

The entire universe in blog form
April 26 2014 7:30 AM

Astronomer Finds a Brown Dwarf Literally as Cold as Ice… and It’s Right Next Door

Stars are hot, right? You might think that’s one of their defining characteristics.
But that’s not entirely true. Brown dwarfs are star-like objects that are more massive than planets, but not quite massive enough to ignite sustained fusion in their cores. Hydrogen fusion is what powers the Sun, and makes it hot; it’s the mighty pressure of the Sun’s core that makes that happen. Brown dwarfs don’t have the oomph needed to keep that going*.

Brown dwarfs are born hot, then cool over time. And now one has been found that is literally as cold as ice. Not only that, but it’s very close to our solar system: Just 7.2 light years away! That makes it the 7th closest known star to the Sun.

The object is called WISE J085510.83-071442.5. I know, I know, but it’s given that designation based on the fact that it was discovered in data taken by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, with the rest of the number salad based on its coordinates on the sky, so let’s call it J0855 for short. WISE observed the entire sky several times over its short 13-month lifetime, looking at cooler and downright cold objects in the Universe. It saw stars, dust clouds, galaxies… and brown dwarfs. Hundreds of brown dwarfs, in fact.

One of them caught the eye of Kevin Luhman, an astronomer who specializes in them. This one was very red and very faint —  as you’d expect for a very cold object — but it was also moving. Fast. Stars aren’t stationary; they actually move around the sky as they each follow their orbits around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. That motion in space is usually a few hundred kilometers per second, but stars are so far away their motion across the sky is pretty slow. It could take centuries to see some of them move noticeably. But if a star is close, very close, to the Sun, that motion can be detected in just a few years, or even months.

[Actual observations of J0855 by WISE and Spitzer show it moving over time (Spitzer has sharper resolution and better vision, so more stars are seen and appear smaller than in the WISE images). Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Penn State]

J0855 moved quite a bit between May and November 2010 when WISE saw it, and Luhman figured that meant it was close. It also showed significant parallax, a change in position that reflects the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. By measuring these two motions, Luhman was able to determine the brown dwarf was a mere 7.2 light years away. There are only six stars closer than that to the Sun that we know of, so this object really is nearby as these things go.

He was able to determine its temperature by measuring how much light it gave off in different colors; hotter objects are bluer, and colder ones red. This object is so cold it’s incredibly faint even in the near infrared; he had to look at even longer wavelengths to get a temperature. It was even invisible to the massive Gemini telescope in Hawaii! He was able to spot it using the Spitzer Space Telescope, though, and was able to nail down its temperature. And this is the part that kills me: the best fit temperature he found was around 225 – 260 Kelvins. Even at the high end, that’s -13° C (9° F). That’s literally colder than ice (or at least the freezing point of water). That’s barely warmer than the temperature of the freezer in my kitchen.

That’s incredible. It implies this object is very old, too, because it would’ve been a few thousands degrees when it formed, and would take at least a billion years to cool down to its current chilly temperature. It’s hard to determine how old it actually is, but it’s most likely 1-10 billion years old.
It has a very low mass, too, probably between 3 and 10 times the mass of Jupiter. That’s pretty lightweight even for a brown dwarf. And here’s another amazing thing about it: It might be a planet. What I mean is, it may have formed around a star like a planet does, then got ejected by gravitational interactions with other planets. If so, it was kicked out of its solar system, doomed to wander the galaxy on its own as a rogue planet. We know such objects exist, and there must be many billions of them in deep, cold space.

However, there’s no way for us to really know, at least not until we have the Enterprise to take us there and get a close look (72 trillion kilometers is still a dang long walk).

Ever since the first brown dwarf was discovered in 1995, I’ve wondered if there might actually be one closer to us than even Proxima Centauri, the closest known star. It would have to be very cold indeed to have escaped our notice, but the existence of J0855 makes me wonder. It’s the seventh closest star and it was only just discovered! Could there be fainter objects — maybe one of those rogue planets — even closer?

Maybe. We’ll know better as we build bigger and more sensitive infrared observatories in space, and let them scan the skies. We may yet be in for a pretty big — and literally cool — surprise.

* Some people might argue that because brown dwarfs can’t sustain fusion in their stars they aren’t really stars. As usual, when you get near the borders of definitions things get fuzzy, and definitions become less than useful. Some people think brown dwarfs are more like planets, and other think they’re more like stars. I think it’s best not to let ourselves get boxed in with arbitrary definitions, and to just let brown dwarfs be brown dwarfs. I generally call them “objects” when I'm trying to be generic, but it's not awful or terribly incorrect to call them stars as long as you keep that in mind.

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