Sep. 2, 2012: Romney is Confirmed Nominee

Well, it’s official. At last week’s Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination for the presidency, confirming what we’ve known for months: that this November would feature a head-to-head showdown between Romney and Barack Obama to see who will lead our country for the next four years. The Republicans spent their time pushing Romney as a devoutly religious, successful businessman who will generate more jobs for the starved economy. Much like Obama was framed as the anti-Bush candidate during the 2008 election, Romney has portrayed himself as the antidote to Obama for voters disillusioned with his leadership over the last four years.

However, Romney’s focus on attacking Obama led some analysts to question whether he was able to build his trust with voters who still don’t know him very well. As the Obama team argued, even as Romney went on the offensive, he offered very little information about what he would do if he won the election. Furthermore, Romney’s recent moves have taken him further and further away from the moderate voters to whom he’ll have to cater if he hopes to triumph this November. Worse yet was the inconsistent focus among many of the convention speakers, who spoke about themselves and their own families as much as they did about Romney, and contradicted one another in turn about whether Romney was loving, respectful, or like “a nasty doctor.” (Gregory “Romney” House, anyone?) Let alone Clint Eastwood’s chat with a chair, for which “bizarre” is one of the kindest descriptions I’ve seen.

But as other analysts have pointed out, playing it safe might be Romney’s best strategy given the floundering U.S. economy and Americans’ growing discontent with their president. Let’s be fair — when the anti-Obama documentary Obama’s America tops all new film releases for the weekend upon its expansion to a nationwide release, it doesn’t bode well for the incumbent. In any case, as Romney began his push for the final nine weeks of the campaign by visiting the Hurricane Isaac-ravaged Louisiana, Obama spent some of his time answering voter questions on Reddit prior to the Democratic National Convention, which he hopes will serve as an opportunity to refute Romney and regain some momentum in the polls.

Speaking of the economy, the employment rate remained stagnant last week with initial jobless claims unchanged at 374,000, which remains the high mark for the month. These join the ranks of the many people collecting unemployment benefits through their state or the federal government; that figure currently sits at 5.44 million people. Even small-business owners are feeling the crushing weight of the economy, with entrepreneurs in their 60’s and 70’s unable to sell their companies and, therefore, unable to retire. Those running their own businesses, it seems, are little better off than those struggling to keep their jobs, as those owners’ nest eggs remain tied up within their companies and unavailable for their personal use. With any recovery still just a distant flicker on the horizon, many baby boomers will likely have to continue working for many years to come.

Let’s switch gears for a bit. Last year, Texas lawmakers and those of seven other states passed laws requiring voters to present photo identification before submitting a ballot in order to prevent voter fraud. Some Democrats, however, contended that the law would disenfranchise Hispanic and black voters, making it more difficult for them to legally vote. On Thursday, a panel of three federal judges agreed, blocking the Texas law. It’s the first time that a state voter identification law has been blocked on the federal level; five other states are still waiting for rulings. It should be noted that Texas is one of 16 states that have a history of voting rights violations and therefore have to seek approval for any voting protocol revisions to the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has vowed to appeal the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that the judges’ decision “is wrong on the law and improperly prevents Texas from implementing the same type of ballot integrity safeguards that are employed by Georgia and Indiana — and were upheld by the Supreme Court.” Abbott contends that voter fraud is substantially easier to perpetrate without such safeguards to verify individuals’ identities. White House Press Secretary Jim Carney rebutted that “This administration believes it should be easier for eligible citizens to vote and to register to vote. We should not be imposing unnecessary obstacles or barriers to voter participation.”

A different three-judge panel rejected Texas’ district redistribution plan, also on the grounds that the adjusted allocation of delegates were skewed against minorities in the state. Texas may have to use their interim delegate maps instead, which they originally drew up for the primary elections in response to voter rights groups’ complaints about the original state-drawn districts. Just as importantly, the judges’ decisions on these key issues could have a profound effect on other states’ ability to enforce their own regulations in the coming election. Should these appeals continue, the Supreme Court may play a role in how the election ultimately proceeds.

In world news, a Thursday report from the U.N.’S International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicates that Iran has doubled the number of its uranium enrichment machines in one of its underground bunkers, openly defying international pressure to stop its atomic development. These new machines are not yet believed to be operational, but they nonetheless bring the bunker to an estimated three-quarters of the centrifuges necessary to produce uranium enriched to 20%, which could then be quickly converted into bomb-grade fuel or nuclear warhead cores.

Iran has consistently denied any interest in developing nuclear weapons, and the country’s secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, has implored the U.N. to “defend Tehran’s right for peaceful use of nuclear energy based on the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty).” At the same time, Iran asked the IAEA’s board to dilute its own power by redistributing its representation — a proposal that is unlikely to pass, but which may give Iran a platform on which to speak at the U.N.’s general conference in September. It should come as little surprise that the White House issued a statement of its own on Thursday, but the government’s words were less than decisive, only indicating that the window of opportunity for the situation to be resolved through diplomacy would not remain open “indefinitely.”

In Colorado, the case against James Holmes is getting weaker by the day, especially now that records have been released indicating that Holmes called the hospital where his psychiatrist worked a mere nine minutes before the fateful shootings on July 20. According to representatives from the University of Colorado Hospital, switchboard operators, who can forward callers to doctors after business hours, received a seven-second call just minutes before Holmes opened fire on the Aurora, Colorado theater, but the caller hung up before ever saying a word. This nonetheless lends a great deal of support to the argument that Holmes knew he had mental problems and was genuinely trying to seek help right up to the moment of the attack, but that the help simply wasn’t sufficient.

It also seems increasingly apparent that Holmes had long-term interpersonal problems well before his July 20 rampage. While the University of Colorado accepted him into their graduate program in neuroscience, the University of Iowa rejected him with the neuroscience program director warning colleagues, “Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances.” Professors at Iowa have declined to elaborate beyond saying that while Holmes was certainly academically qualified for admission — he had earned a stellar 3.9 grade point average at the University of California-Riverside, and scored in the 98th and 94th percentiles on the two primary components of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) for admission to graduate school — the young man was not “a good personal fit for our program.” (Let that be a lesson of its own — GPAs and test scores aren’t everything!)

It’s unclear why the issues which blocked Holmes’ entrance to the University of Iowa failed to prevent his admission to the highly selective neuroscience program at the University of Colorado, which accepts an average of six out of 100 applicants each year. Perhaps they were just enamored by his service at a camp for underprivileged children in 2008, where many of the children had neurological disorders like schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.

In the tech world, Amazon has evidently sold out of its Kindle Fire tablet. The announcement, made on Thursday, pushed shares of its stock to a record high of $250. It also fueled speculation that Amazon will announce the next iteration of the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch, the latter of which is also unavailable for purchase, at an event next Thursday in Santa Monica, California. It doesn’t hurt that a supposed photo of the Kindle Fire 2 was leaked on Thursday. There are apparently two different models in the works: a seven-inch model, which seems to be the image that we’ve seen, as well as a larger ten-inch version.

The Apple vs. Samsung ruling that we discussed last week has drawn a variety of reactions, but Samsung’s own activity since its loss to Apple is perhaps the most interesting to behold. On Thursday, Samsung stunned consumers and analysts alike by unveiling the Samsung ATIV S at Berlin’s IFA conference. The new device is the first Windows 8 smartphone to be revealed, and the announcement leapfrogged Nokia’s own highly anticipated launch. Some commentators are speculating that Samsung will partner more closely with Microsoft in the future, reducing its reliance on Google’s Android operating system.

Apple isn’t done lambasting Samsung, though. Fresh off losing an additional lawsuit against Samsung in Japan on Friday, Apple filed a legal complaint in San Jose, California, saying that Samsung continues to “flood the market with copycat products.” Samsung returned fire, accusing Apple of trying to limit consumer choice by blocking its competition’s efforts. In any case, we shouldn’t expect this battle to end any time soon.

If you’re a fan of webcomics, you’ll appreciate this next story. Matthew Inman, a 27-year-old web designer, developer, and online marketer, also publishes a comic called The Oatmeal, which deals with everything from “The 6 Phases of a Tapeworm’s Life” to “How a Web Design Goes Straight To Hell.” Over the past three years, The Oatmeal has received almost one billion page views from over 100 million visitors. But Inman made a very different sort of impact over the past week and a half.

Let’s back up for a moment. 17 years ago, several interested individuals founded the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, focusing their efforts on restoring the laboratory used by visionary scientist Nikola Tesla over a century ago and turning it into America’s first Tesla museum. (If you’ve forgotten your elementary school science classes, Tesla was a notable rival to Thomas Edison.) They managed to secure a state matching grant of $850,000, which theoretically got them halfway to the $1.6 million necessary to purchase the land. Despite their best efforts, however, they were only able to secure about $50,000 in outside donations, making their goal seem all but insurmountable. The project, it seemed, was doomed from the start.

This summer, however, the Tesla Science Center’s president, Jane Alcorn, learned that Inman had published a comic entitled “Why Nicola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived.” (Read it. Seriously.) The two began talking about Alcorn’s project, and at 6:00 p.m. on August 15, Inman posted a request for donations on By the time Inman went to bed that night, the project had already received almost a quarter of a million dollars, and within a week it blew past the $1.1 million mark, well over the stated goal of $850,000.

Since the first $850,000 will be matched by the aforementioned $850,000 grant from over a decade ago, Matthew Inman’s publicity efforts have pushed the Tesla Science Center’s fundraiser past $2 million — with a month left on the Indiegogo fundraiser, no less. The extra cash beyond the $1.6 million land purchase price will be put toward the museum renovation efforts.

We often see internet stars start fundraisers for their own personal projects, but Inman’s charitable efforts may have a lasting impact on budding scientists for generations to come. Kudos to you, Inman.

It’s always good to look beyond our planet from time to time, and that’s exactly what NASA’s new infrared telescope, WISE, has been doing. While scientists expected to discover some new objects in the vast expanse of space, however, they didn’t expect WISE to uncover an entirely new type of galaxy. Dubbed “hot DOGs” (yes, I’m serious), or hot Dust-Obscured Galaxies, these systems are about twice as hot as comparable galaxies, which may be because much of their radiation is obscured (and perhaps contained) by clouds of dust. WISE located about 1,000 such hot DOGs, a number which represents about one in 100,000 known light sources in the universe.

In other space news, the Mars rover Curiosity is trying to discern whether the red planet ever had an environment that could support microbial life. But it may have been beaten to the punch: sugar molecules have been discovered in the space surrounding a young star in the constellation Ophiuchus. This sugar molecule, named glycolaldehyde, has previously been seen in interstellar space, but it has never been observed so close to a star that could support life. To put it in familiar terms, the sugar molecules are about the same distance away from the star called IRAS 16293-2422 as Uranus is from our own sun. This indicates that the potential for extraterrestrial life may be present in that region, and alien planets may in fact be forming there as we speak. Glycolaldehyde, after all, can react with propenal to form ribose, which is a key component of RNA, one of the fundamental building blocks of life. We shouldn’t expect to be chatting with E.T. any time soon, but this finding makes the hope of finding life beyond our world all the more real.

Andy Roddick, one of the greatest American tennis players, stunned the sports world on Thursday by announcing his retirement from the sport. The announcement came in the early stages of the U.S. Open, where Roddick won the men’s singles title in 2003; it was the last singles Grand Slam win by a U.S. man. The announcement came on Roddick’s 30th birthday, which is indeed on the tail end of most tennis professionals’ careers. Roddick, a former top-ranked player who is seeded 20th in the 2012 U.S. Open, intends to play through the remainder of the tournament before putting away his racket for good. For now, at least, Roddick lives to take the court for another day, as he crushed Australian dynamo Bernard Tomic in straight sets to reach the third round.

As Roddick put it, he is not interested in merely “existing” on the tour. He might exist just a little longer, though, as he’ll be the favorite in his third-round match today against 59th-ranked Fabio Fognini of Italy. Should he push past Fognini, Roddick will likely face 7th-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro for a shot at the quarterfinals. The towering Argentinian hasn’t been quite as dominant as Roddick was in the second round, but he did take down American Ryan Harrison in four relatively easy sets. If Roddick continues further, his most likely quarterfinal opponent would be Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, the tournament’s second seed who is always a threat to take home the title. Spain’s David Ferrer, seeded fourth, also sits on Roddick’s half of the draw, while Switzerland’s Roger Federer awaits on the other side as the most fearsome player in the tournament. (A Roddick-Federal final would be the stuff of legends, especially since Federer won five straight U.S. Opens from 2004-2008 after Roddick’s 2003 success. But there’s a long way to go before that match could reach its fruition.)

Oh, and the NFL regular season is about to start. The officials, on the other hand, remain far from prepared, with most commentators calling the baffling rulings throughout the preseason a mockery of professional football. I suppose that’s what you get when you have to bring in replacement officials after failing to clear a labor impasse with the NFL Referees’ Association. These officials have bungled virtually every call possible, with a miniseries worth of penalties ranging from clock management to which signal indicates which penalty. Heck, one referee actually forgot which city he was in, announcing that “Arizona will be not charged a timeout” during a Baltimore-Atlanta showdown.

And here’s an indication of the replacements’ qualifications for you. The referee who botched that announcement, Craig Ochoa, was actually released by the Lingerie Football League partway through their season. No offense to those women who take the field in the scantiest uniforms ever conceived — from what I’ve read, they actually play hard and get little respect for their efforts beyond objectification — but really. How poor does your officiating have to be to get released from the LFL, where only the highlights even air on MTV2? (That’s right, MTV2. It’s more about the partial nudity than the athleticism, and the ratings still weren’t even high enough for it to find a spot on MTV.) These are the people who are supposed to call the games for arguably the biggest, most-watched sporting league in the country?

So, I think they completely missed the point of protective pads... yet the NFL's new referees weren't even qualified to officiate this game.

Speaking of the need for pads, this is what happens to a defenseless LFL player when she's tackled.

How about we divert our attention from the strange football situation with some downright disgusting health news. That sounds like a good idea, right? First, we have the kidney that was meant for use in an Ohio transplant but which was mistakenly chucked in the trash. Yes, that’s right. A nurse at the University of Toledo Medical Center apparently thought that the organ was junk and tossed it into a medical waste bin. Doctors desperately tried to resuscitate the kidney, which had just been extracted from a live donor for his sister’s operation, but they were unsuccessful. Three staff members have been suspended following the incident, and the hospital voluntarily suspended its entire live kidney donor program as it investigates how such a grievous mistake was possible.

If your friends ever try extreme dieting to improve their health, please tell them to stop. That’s the lesson of a 25-year study which heavily restricted the caloric intake of rhesus monkeys in order to see if being kept lean and hungry would improve one’s longevity. Many scientists taking part in the study, which began in 1987, started restricting their own diets in anticipation that lower calorie intakes would directly result in a longer lifespan. It didn’t work. The long-awaited results revealed, instead, that the skinny monkeys lived no longer than their counterparts who were kept at normal weights throughout their lives. Only a few lab test results improved because of a leaner diet, and only for monkeys switched to a leaner diet at a very old age. There was no benefit whatsoever to the monkeys who were kept on lean diets throughout their lifespans, defying the notion that a low-calorie diet results in a longer life. Granted, the study was only conducted on monkeys, not humans, but it should still serve as food for thought the next time you argue with your growling stomach over whether you’ve reached your calorie quota for the day.

Actually, before you share this news with your friends, maybe you should share it with Disney. The media giant has partnered with Barneys New York for a Christmas extravaganza this year. Delving into the realm of fashion is nothing new for Disney, as even the biggest celebrities flaunt their love for the most famous rodents in the world by donning a Mickey or Minnie Mouse shirt from time to time.

This campaign, however, is a little different. First, it centers around Minnie’s supposed fantasy to attend Paris fashion week. Sure, I’ll buy that. It’s not totally inconceivable. But it culminates with Minnie and her friends strutting down the runway in the latest fashions. Barneys representatives decided that the classic Minnie just wouldn’t be able to wear a real-world Lanvin dress, and Disney executives agreed that she, along with all her friends, would have to be remodeled. And the result was… well… this.

Classic Minnie Mouse

Avert thine eyes!

The anorexic makeovers for the other Disney legends, who will be wearing everything from Dolce & Gabbana to Balenciaga, aren’t much better. I’ll spare your eyes and let you track down the rest yourself, if you’re interested. You can start with the link above, as that article also shows off the new Daisy and Goofy. Just consider yourself warned. And if you really want to make a difference, convince your friends not to shop at Barneys this year if they go through with this campaign. I’m normally not one to push for things like that, but frankly, the new Disney icons even sicken me.

Speaking of clothing wars, last Sunday featured a “Go-Topless Day” protest in New York for women fighting for the same shirtless rights as men. (It is legal for women to go topless in New York City, but that’s not true in many other regions across the country. Similar protests were lodged in about 30 other U.S. cities and 10 in other countries.) Organizers claim that requiring women to cover their breasts in public but letting men bare their chests is discriminatory and unconstitutional. Several women at the protest held signs saying “Equal Topless Rights For All,” and a guitarist played a reworking of The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” featuring the prominent lyric “Let ’em breathe.”

That strategy probably wouldn’t work on any airline these days, though. We’ve heard more and more stories over the past few months about airlines ejecting passengers for their clothing choices, and lawyers are now saying that it’s like any other service industry: if customers are swearing in your restaurant and causing trouble for other diners, you have every right to ask them to leave. The same principle, they say, applies — while the First Amendment protects citizens’ speech rights from governmental punishment, it has no bearing on a private company’s ability to set more stringent rules of its own. But it’s not always clear where those boundaries lie, especially since airlines don’t tend to publish dress codes. Decisions are frequently made by individual flight attendants with no managerial authority in the company, so boarding a plane with a shirt featuring an expletive or a low neck line is akin to playing Russian roulette. Without inconsistent standards, the only question is whether you’ll run into a staff member on a bad day. For instance, US Airways repeatedly allowed a middle-aged man to fly while wearing women’s lingerie and little else, but when University of New Mexico football player Deshon Marman refused a flight attendant’s request to pull up his low-hanging pants last year, he was pulled off the plane and arrested in San Francisco International Airport. (The local prosecutor declined to press charges, but Marman obviously missed his flight and will retain the arrest on his record.) With such diverse opinions on what is appropriate flying attire, it’s virtually impossible to know when you’ve crossed a line until an employee says you’ve taken a step too far.

Finally, we’ll finish with a Toddlers & Tiaras scandal. (Yes, I know — if you’ve seen any episodes, you might think the infamous show itself is one giant scandal, but bear with me.) For those of you unfamiliar with Toddlers & Tiaras, the TLC program basically follows around a bunch of toddlers and their more-than-mad parents who take them around to compete in child beauty pageants. I tried watching it once, just to give it a chance, and I couldn’t even make it through five minutes of pre-kindergarten girls being ordered to wear more makeup and told how to shake their hips in order to be sexier. But if you thought that they couldn’t do any more to try to turn toddlers into fully-grown women, Thursday night’s episode took things to an entirely new level.

As part of her act, four-year-old Destiny was dressed to look like Sandy from the classic film Grease, complete with teased hair and a leather jacket. So far, hardly the most shocking get-up on the show.

Then, as she strutted on stage, viewers noticed the cigarette dangling from her lips.

In case you forgot, she's four years old.

“Don’t forget to smoke,” her mother had reminded her before her performance. And so she did.

It wasn’t that long ago that cigarette companies like Camel were under fire for allegedly marketing their products to children. After all, people said, a cartoon camel will get children’s attention, and the smoking could be easily imitated. So agreements were reached and regulations were tightened to protect kids from advertising influences. Which makes it all the more absurd that any parent would skip that entire step and put the cigarette directly into a preschooler’s mouth.

To be fair, the cigarette was apparently a fake. Not that that necessarily makes this incident a lot better. In the future, it will be a lot easier for little Destiny to find real cigarettes than the fakes her mother purchased, after all.

This is hardly the only piece of absurdity surrounding TLC’s hit program. Last year, five-year-old Madisyn “Maddy” Verst appeared on Toddlers & Tiaras dressed as Dolly Parton, complete with “fake C-cup boobs, butt pads and a hot pink Lycra pant suit. To top it all off, she sported a platinum blonde wig.” Needless to say, that incident sparked its share of outrage, too. Perhaps the angriest person was Maddy’s father, Bill Verst, who decided that things had finally gone too far. Verst is now petitioning a court to take full custody of Maddy from his ex-wife Lindsay Jackson, saying that incidents like the Dolly Parton show and a set of “sexy police officer” photos show that the child’s mother is exploiting her through the child beauty pageants. Early reports indicate that the court is likely to agree with him — a court-appointed psychological expert wrote several pages condemning the girl’s pageant participation and recommending Verst be named primary residential custodian. Judges in such cases almost always follow the recommendation of a neutral psychological expert.

Jackson, on the other hand, has vehemently protested the notion that entering her daughter in pageants makes her a bad mother, noting that her ex-husband has a lengthy arrest record including alcohol and drug-related charges. She further argued that such a ruling would open the door for any activity to be challenged as a reason for custody to be revoked. “What if years ago Gabby Douglas’ father said, ‘She’s not going to be a gymnast. She’s not going to move away from home and practice gymnastics because I won’t allow it,’ and he and Gabby’s mother got into a fight? We wouldn’t have gold medal winners, we wouldn’t have Miss America, we wouldn’t have Miss USA.”

In any case, the court proceedings resumed on Friday, so we’ll see where the case goes.

For all its controversy, Toddlers & Tiaras continues to rake in the viewers. It has been so successful, in fact, that TLC recently launched a spinoff, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, built around one of its most outrageous contestants, six-year-old Alana Johnson. To put it in perspective, last week “Honey Boo Boo” and her self-proclaimed redneck family earned higher ratings than the Republican National Convention broadcasts on ABC and CBS… combined. Sure, if you add together all of the major networks showing the RNC, they cumulatively outdid TLC’s new program, but should we really have to put all of the biggest channels together just to beat Here Comes Honey Boo Boo? No wonder so many fanatics are predicting the end of the world this year.

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Atlanta school forfeits season opener for basic reason: It doesn’t have equipment
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New iPad Mini to debut in October, sources say
Boy, 10, reports stabbing on Oklahoma City Public Schools bus
Pirate Bay Founder Arrested in Cambodia
Poof! $1 Billion Slashed From 2012 Facebook Revenue Forecast
We will win in Afghanistan
American Taliban Seeks Group Prayer in Ind. Prison


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