Aug. 12, 2012: Mitt Romney’s Running Mate is Paul Ryan

Well, it’s official. Mitt Romney has been consistently pressured by Republicans to put Paul Ryan on his presidential ticket, particularly given the skepticism many conservatives continue to show the moderate candidate. In a Virginia press conference yesterday morning, Romney made it official: his running mate is indeed Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Ryan is well-known as a fiscal conservative determined to reduce taxes and slash government spending, so this move could help Romney invigorate the Republican base. That’s an especially significant move given that the party base has been Romney’s biggest problem. Looking at votes from the 2008 election, more Barack Obama voters than John McCain voters are switching parties this year, a party line shift that would seem to benefit Republicans, but Romney may yet have more trouble getting his party to go to the polls given his moderate stance on several key issues. For instance, the healthcare law he signed in Massachusetts, often dubbed “Romneycare,” closely resembled the highly controversial Obamacare that most Republicans have staunchly decried over the course of Obama’s presidency. (The real question is whether or not Romney still believes in universal health care despite his insistence that he would repeal Obamacare if elected.) The addition of a hardcore conservative may help Romney’s chances if it gets Republicans excited, but it also gives Democrats an easier right-wing target to attack. Given that Obama has been just as happy to mercilessly slam Romney as Romney has been to assault Obama on all fronts, it’s crucial for both sides to avoid giving other any easy openings.

Romney’s choice does risk making the 2012 election a question of race, much like 2008 was at times, particularly given that he passed over minority leaders like Marco Rubio and Condoleezza Rice. One would hope that an election should be based on political policies rather than race, but that likely wasn’t the whole story in 2008, so racial divides may pervade this November’s contest as well. Still, there’s also the point that running mate picks tend to have minimal effect on elections, so maybe the whole affair is overblown after all.

Let’s shift back to the Olympics for a bit. After making a number of key gains, especially in track and field, the U.S. is expected to win both the overall medal count and the total number of golds in London. Much of this success is due to landmark advancements, like Claressa Shields becoming the first American woman to take home a gold medal in boxing and gymnast Gabrielle Douglas being the first African-American woman to win all-around gold. It also comes despite major blunders like Douglas’ later adventures on the balance beam and uneven bars as well as coach Adam Krikorian’s erroneous and unnecessary timeout that almost sunk the U.S. women’s water polo team with one second left in their semifinal match. (Krikorian mistakenly tried to call a timeout when the ball was still loose, and Australian Ash Southern converted the automatic penalty shot to tie the game. However, the nonetheless U.S. prevailed 11-9 in overtime and went on to claim the gold medal.)

The U.S. has hardly been the sole source of Olympics news, of course. After the disgraceful boxing decisions that we discussed last week, Japanese fighter Satoshi Shimizu got some semblance of justice by winning his quarterfinal bout and ultimately earning a bronze medal in the bantamweight division. (On a side note, officials for the International Amateur Boxing Association, or AIBA, told the NBC commentators who called out their comical officiating to vacate their ringside broadcast positions. Rather than continue their work from an on-site broadcast booth, commentators Teddy Atlas and Bob Papa chose to leave London entirely, and finished their jobs from a studio in New York City.)

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt became the first person in history to win both the 100 meter and 200 meter golds in back-to-back Summer Olympic Games, doing so despite a fan throwing a beer bottle at the competitors seconds before the 100 meter race began. That fan has since been arrested for “creating a public nuisance.” Of course, NBC used the opportunity to highlight, once again, how shoddy its coverage is: the race was not aired on American television until hours later, but it was shown via live stream on NBC’s website, which the network offered as its sole live option for Americans. That live stream, unfortunately, buffered in the middle of the race, so every single stream viewer missed the competition’s climactic moments. (It also spawned myriad jokes about how Usain Bolt is faster than the internet.) It was just the natural next step in NBC’s odd coverage of the competitions, which has been high on business savvy and low on quality throughout the Olympics. How better to compel people to watch a tape-delayed television broadcast, after all, than to have your live stream conveniently fail mid-race? (Well, except for those technically savvy fans who craftily hid their location to access the BBC’s live web coverage.)

Not that the tape-delayed broadcast was particularly special, as the network personnel seemed more concerned with ogling Bolt and his victory poses than showing the final race results — a few minutes passed before the times were shown via their network graphics, although one could make out fuzzy, unfocused numbers in the distance while the camera focused on the Bolt. Rather than highlight the race itself, the commentators instead ceaselessly heaped unabashed praise on Bolt — “We’ve all been in the presence of greatness tonight” was restated, in various forms, over and over again — a process I will proudly be the first to call “Boltsturbation.” (Go ahead, search that term on Google. No one else has called it that, at least not at the time of this post.) Bolt, for his part, took the opportunity to inflate his ego even more, immediately declaring himself a “legend” and “the greatest athlete who ever lived” after completing his second double victory. He also slandered former U.S. sprinter Carl Lewis, who came closest to Bolt’s feat, only missing the double-double in 1984 and 1988 by taking silver in the latter 200-meter final. Bolt said he had “no respect for [Lewis]” after the former champion raised questions about Jamaican drug testing procedures, claiming that he was just “looking for attention, really, because nobody really talks much about him.”

Sure, there were some touching stories at these Summer Games. For instance, Hungarian Daniel Gyurta, who won gold in the 200 meter breaststroke, will be making a replica of his medal. Why, you ask? Because the defending world champion, Alexander Dale Oen of Norway, unexpectedly died three months ago. Gyurta intends to give the replica medal to Dale Oen’s family, as the Norwegian was the favorite as well as Gyurta’s close friend.

These Olympics also marked the first time a double leg amputee competed for medals in track and field. While South African Oscar Pistorius didn’t make it to the medal stand, it was still a historic event for international competition. And Manteo Mitchell of the U.S. 4×400 meter relay team broke his leg midway through his lap, but still managed to complete his portion in 45 seconds to keep the team alive. The Americans ultimately reached the final, but had to substantially reorganize their lineup, especially with the last two Olympic 400-meter champions Jeremy Wariner and Lashawn Merritt also injured. Despite using an array of reserves, the team earned the silver medal, with substitute U.S. anchor Angelo Taylor getting passed by Ramon Miller of the Bahamas on the final lap. It was the first time since 1972 that the American men have lost that event in the Olympics, but it was also the Bahamas’ first men’s gold medal in any sport.

For every touching story, though, it seems that we hear ten Olympic-sized scandals in exchange. From the Belgian cyclist who was kicked out of the Olympics after a public, drunken bender to American judoka Nick Delpopolo being expelled after testing positive for THC. Several U.S. track medalists are likewise under scrutiny for their connection with Mark Block, a former coach who was banned from the sport for doping.

Two Kazakhstani gold medalists in weightlifting are now at the heart of a diplomatic battle over whether they are actually from Kazakhstan or are natives of China. Seven Cameroonian athletes vanished after their events were complete, which is hardly a first for the country, as officials suspect that they abandoned Olympic Village to search for jobs in Europe. French media outlets have openly accused the world record-shattering Great Britain cycling velodrome team of cheating by manipulating their equipment in the cycling velodrome; Great Britain’s rowing teams also face scrutiny over stretching the rules in their respective competitions. And the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is struggling to stop the results-fixing that has pervaded the 2012 Olympics.

The fans have provided some amusement of their own. Sweden’s king, Carl XVI Gustaf, did his best to destroy other spectators’ eardrums during his country’s handball matches (see the picture below), which might actually give Aly Raisman’s parents a run for their money. (Raisman, incidentally, has won so many medals that she can’t tell them apart. I suppose that’s what happens when you win the team event and the floor exercise, and even score an extra bronze on a balance beam appeal.)

The King of Earsplitting.

Apparently some found the beach volleyball competition a little too titillating, though. Yes, athletes in a wide range of sports show their solidarity with such displays as butt-slapping, but while few find spanking the quarterback to be sexually offensive, the same could not be said of the Daily Mail’s beach volleyball coverage, which urged several of the top teams to “get a room.” Granted, beach volleyball players have rather smaller uniforms, but that goes for both genders because, let’s face it, they’re on the beach. It’s a bit hard to play volleyball in pants.

Well, maybe they were just upset that the volleyball teams also got their own gyrating cheerleaders. But at least they can’t blame the athletes for that, even if it does excite the audience.

Dancing....

...and more.

Well, since the Closing Ceremony is today, maybe we can hope for future Olympics will feature more innocent, family-friendly sports. Like the non-violent contest of mixed martial arts or the risk-free game of fire tennis. Because even those sports can’t possibly be as painful as Stephan Feck’s demonstration of the Olympics’ worst dive, in which the German competitor lost his grip on his left leg during his rotation and landed flat on his back, resulting in a “resounding splat.” The fans groaned, and he received straight zeroes from the judges. After attempting one more dive, Feck ultimately withdrew from the competition, in too much pain to continue.

Okay, let’s switch gears. As I predicted a few weeks ago, the attorneys for James Holmes, who is on trial for the Colorado movie shooting, are arguing that their client is mentally ill. This sets up a likely insanity defense for the man accused of massacring a dozen moviegoers. Especially critical are their claims that Holmes sought help for his illness before the incident, and that his psychiatrist reported her concerns to the police weeks before the killings, using a legal exception to doctor-patient confidentiality laws — police, of course, failed to act on her report to prevent this incident.

The theater shooting has largely overshadowed news coverage of a similarly tragic assault at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last Sunday. According to reports, two children burst into the community kitchen as lunch was being prepared and screamed that they had seen a man with a gun outside. People began to scatter in every direction, fleeing or seeking hiding places to escape the assault. Ultimately, the gunman, who was identified as 40-year-old former U.S. Army serviceman Wade Michael Page, tracked down and killed six members of the congregation. He also critically wounded a police officer and injured three other people before committing suicide. Page’s ex-girlfriend, Misty Cook, was arrested on a weapons charge Sunday night after police found a gun in her home. Cook was convicted of eluding police in 2002, and the felony makes it illegal for her to possess a firearm.

Brooklyn hardware store clerk Levi Aron pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Thursday, guaranteeing himself a sentence of 40 years to life in prison. Aron had previously submitted a not guilty plea to first-degree charges of abducting, drugging, and dismembering eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky when the boy got lost on his way home from a religious day camp last summer, but prosecutors accepted a plea agreement at the urging of Kletsky’s parents, who wanted to find closure. The fateful day was the first time Kletsky had been allowed to walk home, and he missed a turn on the path to meeting his mother seven blocks away. Aron let the boy stay at his home overnight, and left him watching television when he went to work the next morning. But when he heard about the frantic search for Kletzky that day, he panicked, returned home and smothered the child with a towel until he stopped breathing. He then chopped up Kletsky’s body with knives and attempted to dispose of them. Detectives found severed feet in his freezer, while the rest were in plastic bags within a suitcase that he had placed in a garbage bin.

In Delaware, Dr. Melvin Morse and his wife, Pauline, were arrested after their daughter, whose name has not been disclosed, told a child advocacy worker that her father had subjected her to waterboarding torture four times between May 2009 and May 2011, and that her mother watched it happen but did nothing to stop it. The pediatrician has been featured on such shows as Larry King Live and The Oprah Winfrey Show for his research on paranormal science and near-death experiences, but officials suspended his medical license over the allegations. The couple now faces several felony counts based on their daughter’s claims, although their attorneys dispute the incident, arguing that the daughter made a false abuse claim against a family member once before.

Things have been more positive above the surface of the planet. Late Sunday night, the Mars rover Curiosity made a landing that was “cleaner than any of our tests,” according to Al Chen, a member of the mission landing team. It was a surprisingly deft landing, particularly given that as the rover approached the planet’s surface, at the end of an eight-month journey through space, no manual commands could be given since they wouldn’t have reached the craft in time to help. Shortly after its almost perfectly level landing in Mars’ Gale Crater, the rover transmitted its first color photos through an old NASA satellite, including a 360-degree color image with Martian bedrock that may reveal whether the planet has ever been capable of supporting microbial life.

NASA’s Morpheus lander, however, which is expected to replace Curiosity in the future, was not so lucky during its launch test at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday. The craft veered off course, slammed into the ground, and burst into flame. According to NASA, the crash resulted from “a hardware component failure, which prevented it from maintaining stable flight.” No one was injured in the incident, and NASA officials noted that they expect crashes during the testing and development process. It’s certainly a fair point, but given the complete failure of Morpheus to even keep aloft, we can nonetheless be confident that Curiosity will remain the unit of choice for some time to come.

In other otherworldly news (ha ha), astronomers have constructed a 3D map of the known universe, making it the largest, most accurate such map ever created. Researchers hope that the map, which was produced by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III) and which charts all known massive galaxies and black holes, will facilitate the investigation of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy.

Physicists have been pursuing breakthroughs in other areas, as well. It has been long believed that particles which undergo quantum entanglement, or the joining and separating of particles, will subsequently mirror one another’s behavior instantaneously, regardless of the distance between them, opening up countless possibilities for cryptography, communication, and computation. But quantum entanglement is difficult to manage, as sensitive systems can be drastically affected by outside forces. So Caslav Brukner and Philip Walther’s recent experiment, which seemed to show that quantum states can be remotely controlled even without the need for entanglement, could catalyze a major revolution in the field. According to Brukner and Walther, quantum discord, which occurs when one member of a particle pair is affected by the measurement of its correlated particle, could be even more useful for generating quantum events. After all, it takes far fewer resources to manipulate quantum discord than to work with quantum entanglement. There are still numerous obstacles to the widespread use of either quantum entanglement or quantum discord, but Brukner and Walther are right to note that their approach to the latter solves some of the logistic problems in the former.

Gamers looking forward to the next generation of consoles will be thrilled to hear that confirmed photos of the Xbox 720 Development Kit have emerged. (Well, Xbox 720 isn’t an official title, at least at this point, but it’s the most likely possibility that anyone has posed. The console is believed to be codenamed Durango, a name which prominently appears in several of the images.) One mode of the kit is designed for use with a Kinect peripheral, while the system as a whole is expected to hold six times the processing power of its predecessor. Most analysts expect the next round of consoles to emerge next year, so we still have some time to wait before playing the Xbox 720, the WiiU, and the PlayStation 4. So just be patient; good things are on the way. And if you’re more interested in old technology than newer innovations, take a look at the Oculus Rift, a headset that is designed to take advantage of retinal screens and other advancements to make the decades-old idea of virtual reality gaming work better than the shoddy graphics and constricting headgear we experienced in the early 1990s. Game design guru John Carmack showed off the Oculus Rift at the E3 convention in June, and last week he launched a kickstarter, hoping to raise $250,000 to get the project off the ground. Within five days, he had over $1.3 million in the bank, and several game companies have expressed an interest in making their titles compatible with the Rift. It’s nothing earthshaking yet, but it’s a start.

Let’s return to the skies again. VietJetAir, a Vietnamese discount airline, gave its passengers some special entertainment on an August 3rd flight. While the hour-long flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang was too short for an in-flight movie, it was plenty of time for the company to get a group of young models to parade through the cabin in bikinis. As Annie Rose Ramos of ABC News put it,

Clad in vaporous string bikini tops and sarongs that flaunted the company colors of red and yellow, young, beautiful women filed down the plane’s aisles last Friday for a bikini show. […] As passengers pulled out their smart phones and video cameras in order to archive their unique airline experience, the young women sashayed up and down the plane, batting their eyelashes at the passengers and handing out toys to children, while the plane was at cruising altitude.

You can purchase tickets at http://www.vietjetair.com. You know, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

They call it 'customer service.'

After the flight was over, passengers flocked to social media sites to post their videos. And that’s when everyone realized that this bit of entertainment apparently hadn’t been cleared with all the proper authorities. Vietnam’s Civil Aviation Administration eventually decided to fine the company 20 million dong, or roughly $960 USD, for holding the three-minute show without proper approval. The passengers probably felt that it was well worth it, especially since the company otherwise followed all safety regulations, including waiting until the plane reached a cruising altitude and only letting passengers use their phones’ video capabilities while in airplane mode.

Originally I thought that this was unusual for the airline, but then I visited their official website and found this image:

Well, at least their advertisements are honest.

So now I’m not so sure. Besides, as a company spokesperson said, “It was the first flight to a beach town, so we came up with the idea of getting a number of girls in bikinis to dance and make passengers happy to improve our customer service.” I’ll hold back the urge to call this a particular kind of service and just reflect on some analysts’ comments that continuing this practice — and clearing it with the government beforehand — might help VietJetAir attract passengers to other short flights in the future.

With all the Olympic coverage we had last week, I neglected to mention the self-fulling prophecy of the week. We turn to Noah Rothman of Mediaite for this gem:

An Alabama man learned the hard way that texting while driving can be hazardous to your health when he drove off a cliff after texting, “I need to quit texting, because I could die in a car accident.”

Doctors had to resuscitate Chance Bothe three times after his near-fatal crash, which left him with “a broken neck, a fractured skull, multiple injuries to his face and traumatic brain injuries.” So, yeah. Good job, buddy.

This week had a surplus of astounding stories like that. Consider, for instance, the Washington D.C. man who ordered a high-definition television from a third-party vendor on Amazon and received a high-caliber assault rifle instead. Seth Horvitz, the buyer, quickly contacted police once he realized that it was illegal to own the Sig Sauer SIG716 in D.C. Police confiscated the weapon and are currently investigating how the mishap occurred. Horvitz, on the other hand, got a full refund for the television he never received.

Then there’s 66-year-old John Wise of Massillon, Ohio, who is on trial for murdering his wife of 45 years. Prosecutors suspect that the shooting of Barbara Wise, from which she died the following day, was a mercy killing, ending her stay of several days in the intensive care unit. On Tuesday, Wise made his first court appearance and was told that he was being charged with aggravated attempted murder. His confused response: “Is she not dead?

We also have the business owner who is selling every one of his possessions for $3.5 million on eBay, as well as an Occupy Wall Street-esque vandalism stunt that left a Las Vegas billboard with a dummy hanging from a noose. And, of course, there’s the roller coaster that an Ohio couple made in their backyard for their children.

At least the backyard coaster wasn't quite this crazy.

You have to feel for the Chinese woman who visited Changsha Central Hospital last week complaining of itching in the left side of her head. She probably thought she had a rash or infection. I’m sure she didn’t expect to hear that a spider was nesting in her ear canal.

...Ew.

It seems that the spider likely entered her home during renovations and crawled into the poor woman’s ear while she slept, five days before she visited her physician. That’s right: a spider made its home in her ear for five full days. Doctors puzzled for quite some time over the best way to extract the arachnid without driving it further down her ear canal or inciting it to bite her, and they eventually settled on flushing out the whole canal with a saline solution. It was a risky idea, but thankfully a successful one, and the unidentified woman reportedly wept with gratitude after the procedure was complete.

Let’s visit the airways one last time. An unfortunate, intoxicated Norwegian tourist at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport had his body flooded with radiation last week. Apparently the unnamed 36-year-old man intended to check-in for his flight to Oslo, Norway, but found no one at the reception desk. So he took the only reasonable action he could fathom, jumping over the desk and taking a nap on the baggage conveyor belt. The man traveled a full 160 feet before authorities spotted him on an X-ray scanner, which, of course, was not intended for human use. The disturbing part is that this incident apparently isn’t that unusual among “drunks or people with psychological problems.” On the contrary, officials say that it happens about once a year.

Passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight had their confidence shaken last week when one of them, sitting in a window seat, spotted a telltale handwritten message on the wing:

Now there's a comforting sight.

Now, in the airline’s defense, this was apparently the result of an approved repair. Officials noted that they have been trying to streamline the communication between workers and documentation of safety issues at different airports in order to reduce the time for maintenance checks, so this was simply one staff member’s way of alerting others that the shaved-off part of the wing had already been checked. But you can’t blame unaware passengers for freaking out upon seeing it, so naturally, the company immediately removed the scrawled message upon hearing from the passengers.

And, finally, there’s Dutch artist Bart Jansen. It’s understandable that he grieved when his cat Orville, named after legendary aviator Orville Wright, died after being hit by a car. It’s less understandable that he proceeded to have his cat stuffed and converted into a flying helicopter.

It's just part of the grieving process

So — and I’m not even joking here — Orville has been transformed into what Jansen called the “Orvillecopter.” Visitors to Amsterdam’s Kunstrai Art Festival can watch the dead feline fly for themselves.

Oh, and it’s clear how much his owner still cares for him: “He will receive more powerful engines and larger props for his birthday. So this hopping will soon change into steady flight.”

How sweet.

It's natural!

Other articles of interest:
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Iran Vows Support For Assad’s Regime
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