Jul. 29, 2012: The London Olympics are underway!

Well, the 2012 Summer Olympics have begun, and we’re already seeing a steady flow of high drama from London. NBC started the controversy during the opening ceremonies on Friday: rather than show London’s tribute to the 52 victims who perished in terrorist attacks on their soil in 2005, the U.S. network decided to “tailor” its broadcast for American audiences by instead presenting a conversation between U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps and television star Ryan Seacrest.

Phelps, incidentally, failed to even reach the medal stand in Saturday’s 400 meter individual relay, his first Olympic event since the 2008 Games where he won eight gold medals, and a race that NBC had billed as a head-to-head showdown between him and fellow American Ryan Lochte. While Lochte cruised to gold, the event marked the first time Phelps fell short of medaling since the 2000 Olympics. Seacrest, on the other hand, is still best known for hosting the declining singing competition American Idol, not for being a world-class athlete or even a sports commentator. So, yes, dropping the tribute to show a chat between not-quite-a-winner Phelps and not-quite-an-athlete Seacrest was clearly a smart content choice by NBC.

…Well, actually, perhaps the strategy really was sound: the 40.7 million Americans who watched the opening ceremonies set an all-time record. If NBC thought that a Phelps-Seacrest chat would be more exciting for U.S. audiences than London’s heartfelt tribute to their own victims, perhaps the network was right. Judge for yourself whether that demonstrates NBC’s brilliant marketing prowess or American viewers’ apathy about the world at large.

In any case, the controversy surrounding these Games hardly stops with NBC. Supposedly sold-out events have been filled with rows upon rows of empty VIP seats, a troubling reality that that London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is investigating — it’s especially bad since these prime seats were reserved for Olympians’ family members, so the general public, which had been spending upwards of $300 a seat until all the other vacancies filled, never had the opportunity to purchase the best seats in the house.

Further, the Greek Olympic team barred triple jumper Voula Papachristou from competing after she made a Twitter post with racist connotations, while three-time gold medalist swimmer Stephanie Rice of Australia is under fire for tweeting a picture of herself wearing a two-piece bikini. But the attendance and social media controversies have had little effect on others like Nur Suryani Mohammed Taibi, a Malaysian shooter who also expects to give birth in the next five weeks (Taibi finished 34th in qualifying, baby and all), or medal hopeful Hiroshi Hoketsu, a Japanese equestrian rider who just happens to be 71 years old. No, those digits aren’t reversed. Check out the photograph below.

As of late Saturday evening in the U.S., Lochte’s win remains America’s only gold medal; the U.S. also holds two silvers and two bronzes. China holds a narrow lead over the other nations at the Olympics with six medals (four golds, two bronzes), but with 15 days of competition left, the Chinese lead is hardly insurmountable for almost any squad in London. Besides, with almost-certain medal winners like two-time defending beach volleyball champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh still on the prowl, the medal standings could shift in a hurry.

Let’s also continue our earlier coverage of the tragic Colorado theater shooting on July 20 which left 12 moviegoers dead and 58 more injured. According to law enforcement officials, over a week before that fateful evening, accused gunman James Holmes mailed a notebook “full of details about how he was going to kill people” to Dr. Lynne Fenton, a University of Colorado psychiatrist and the school’s director of mental health services. Law enforcement sources are somewhat inconsistent on the exact timeline, however: while initial reports indicated that the package arrived at the university on July 12 and sat unopened in a mailroom until police officers retrieved it on the 23rd, later comments suggest that it was merely postmarked on the 12th and delivered a few days later. A university spokesperson, meanwhile, insists that the package arrived on the very day that law enforcement officials confiscated it, denying any possibility that Holmes’ warning fell into the university’s care before the killings. If, indeed, the university had possession of the notebook beforehand, they are likely to be sued by victims and their families “for negligent failure to take appropriate steps to prevent the rampage,” particularly since Fenton would have been legally required to report such a credible threat to the police.

Holmes’ defense team, on the other hand, immediately demanded that prosecutors explain their discovery process for obtaining the notebook. If Holmes had been seeing Fenton for psychiatric help, and if Fenton was the person who revealed the notebook’s existence to police, that would constitute a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality and would make the notebook inadmissible in court. On the other hand, the whole affair may give the defense a golden opportunity to argue that Holmes is incompetent to stand trial, particularly if a preexisting mental condition prompted his killing spree. That’s likely to offer little comfort to the families of victims whose untimely burials are still ongoing, though. Let’s just hope that would-be copycats like Neil Prescott don’t destroy any additional lives.

I think we need to lighten the mood a little bit. Fans of classic music, as well as many experts, have long contended that modern music is simpler than the artful compositions of decades past, a fact which the industry has hidden by jacking up the volume at which tunes are recorded. Well, a group of researchers in Spain have finally confirmed those protestations. Artificial intelligence expert Joan Serra and her team used a set of sophisticated algorithms to study the progression of pop music from 1955-2010 using an archive called the Million Song Dataset. According to Serra, diversity in the types of instruments and performance techniques, as well as the combinations of chords and melodies that artists use in their compositions, has consistently declined over the past 50 years. Furthermore, the intrinsic volume of music, or the volume at which music is recorded independent of amplifier settings, has also climbed over the years due to the industry’s apparent “loudness war.” So the next time you hear people whining that today’s artists are poorer musicians who just play louder than the musicians of old… well, they’re probably right.

Finally, on an unrelated note, this will mark the second week in a row that we’ve barely touched upon the political scene. Even with just 100 days until the presidential election, the polls for battleground states and the nation as a whole have Barack Obama and Mitt Romney at a dead heat. This looks to be a much tighter election than what we saw four years ago, although we likely won’t know how most of the public really feels until after voters start really paying attention around Labor Day. In other words, the campaign has hardly even begun, so you can look forward to (or dread) ever more political commercials, speeches, and events in the weeks to come.

Other articles of interest:
Mississippi Church Refuses to Marry Black Couple
Facebook’s stock plunge highlights fears about growth
What’s ailing the video game industry?
New Apple ads make Mac owners look inept, foolish
Google just happens to find Street View data it was supposed to have deleted
FBI Can’t Crack Android Pattern-Screen Lock
Kids Can Open Gun Safes With Straws and Paper Clips, Researchers Say
Exploding Blue Termites Spew Poison When Grabbed, Scientists Say
Insight: Climate of fear
Overnight Shift Work Could Increase Heart Attack And Stroke Risk
Genetic Data and Fossil Evidence Tell Differing Tales of Human Origins
Physicists Create Smallest Semiconductor Laser
Alien Solar System Looks a Lot Like Our Own
South Korean Artist Prepares to Launch His Homemade Satellite Into Orbit
NASA’S SLS Rocket Passes Major Review Hurdle

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