Oct. 14, 2012: Vice Presidential Debate: A draw?

After the first presidential debate, almost every media outlet declared Mitt Romney the clear winner. He surged in the polls after his victory, moving past Barack Obama in almost every major national survey taken after the skirmish despite having consistently trailed for almost a year. According to RealClearPolitics’ average of nationwide polls, Obama had not trailed since Oct. 11, 2011, but Romney pulled ahead on Tuesday, showing just how decisively the debate changed voters’ impressions of the race.

Thursday’s vice presidential debate, on the other hand, did not have such a clear winner despite the clear contrast in the running mates’ policies and debating styles. Joe Biden was much more active throughout the debate, taking control of almost the entire first half but doing so by repeatedly interrupting both his opponent and the moderator, while Paul Ryan played a more passive role, but kept a cool, composed demeanor throughout the clash. Biden had a number of strong one-liners prepared to combat the Republicans, from attacking Romney’s now-infamous “47%” line to calling Ryan’s claims “a bunch of malarkey.” Ryan didn’t have nearly as many strong retorts, much of which was due to Biden interjecting and getting the last word on the vast majority of debate topics.

Still, just because Biden was more active doesn’t necessarily mean that he won, particularly since Ryan didn’t duplicate the annoyance that Obama displayed in losing the first presidential debate. While some said that Biden was much more gregarious, with his open laughter and warm smile helping him to connect with voters in contrast with his cold rival, others called him overly aggressive in trying to keep Ryan from even completing a sentence, saying that his audible scoffing throughout the debate made look crass and disrespectful instead of engaged in a serious discussion. Did Biden’s lively enthusiasm and pointed critiques stop the bleeding after Obama’s lackluster performance, or did his snarkiness and unwillingness to let Ryan respond further turn off undecided voters? Only time, and the polls, will tell — that is, if this sole clash between the running mates has any effect at all.

Well, at least the vice presidential fight didn’t wind up like the California House race, where the hostility between fellow Democrats Brad Sherman and Howard Berman peaked during their final primary debate on Thursday. Their campaign has been particularly nasty from the start, but Berman escalated the tension during a dispute over immigration when he moved close to Sherman and commanded him to “Get out of my face.” Moments later, Sherman “aggressively seized the shoulder of his opponent…yanked him toward his chest and shouted, ‘You want to get into this?‘” A sheriff’s deputy moved toward the two, and the 57-year-old Sherman backed away; the 71-year-old Berman left the debate shortly afterward.

Such moments make me glad I’m not a politician. I don’t think I’d enjoy spending my twilight years like that.

Now that we’re done with the big political story, I’d like to address an entirely different matter. Last week, a few readers complained that my entire post consisted of politics and sports. Well, I’m all about giving the people what they want. I’m nothing if not accommodating, so I listened to my readers and kept their requests in mind when writing this post. If you didn’t like last week’s subjects, then these next stories are just for you.

Dallas resident Elizabeth Escalona, a 23-year-old mother of five, is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Back in July, Escalona pleaded guilty to a felony charge of injuring a child. You see, hardly the model parent, Escalona became upset when her two-year-old daughter, Jocelyn Cedillo, was having trouble with potty-training. So she kicked her little girl in the stomach, beat her with a milk jug, and super glued her hands to an apartment wall. Jocelyn’s injuries included bleeding in her brain which led to a coma of almost a week, a broken rib, and numerous bruises and bite marks, in addition to skin torn from the hands which had been glued to the wall.

Although Escalona pleaded guilty, she rejected the prosecution’s plea offer of 45 years in prison, admitting to the judge that “only a monster does that” but nonetheless begging for a second chance. State District Judge Larry Mitchell responded by sentencing her to 99 years in prison. Escalona will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

Florida brought us a very different sort of gut-wrenching story this week. Gino Covacci was enjoying a casual walk on the beach last Wednesday, keeping his eyes peeled for treasures like unique shells in the sand, as he often does. But he wasn’t expecting to find… well, this:

...Ew.

That’s not an odd piece of camera equipment, even if it looks a little bit like a lens. No, that’s a giant eyeball.

Covacci did what any reasonable person would do upon finding a giant, bloody eye on the beach: he took it home and put it in his refrigerator. “It was very, very fresh,” he told local reporters.

Grossed out enough yet?

Naturally, Covacci (and the local police) had to wonder what manner of beast was missing this softball-sized eye. So the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was tasked with examining the specimen. Contrary to Covacci’s initial speculation that the eye belonged to a giant squid, the experts determined that it likely came from a ten-foot swordfish. The organization has yet to release its official report, but on Friday afternoon one of the commission’s scientists told other experts “eye in hand” that he was sure it had come from a large swordfish, bringing the outlandish story to a somewhat dull end. At least, as much as finding a softball-sized eyeball on the beach can be called “dull.”

If that wasn’t vomit-inducing enough for you, then let’s move on to the unfortunate tale of Edward Archbold. On Friday night, Archbold participated in the “Midnight Madness” eating competition at a local pet store, Ben Siegel Reptiles. He was apparently one of the most effervescent competitors in the bunch, winning over the crowd with his enthusiasm. Archbold was “the life of the party,” the store owner later told reporters, swallowing handful after handful of roaches and worms in his quest to win an $850 python for a friend.

Yes, it was that kind of eating competition.

Soon after the contest ended, Archbold began vomiting, and one of his friends called 911. A witness recalled the announcer saying that “the winner was vomiting somewhere and we’ll congratulate him when he comes back.” But Archbold fell to the ground before paramedics arrived, and when the ambulance brought him to the hospital, he was pronounced dead at the site.

Now, granted, most of us wouldn’t dare eat roaches and worms, so we might wonder why on earth someone would do this. But all the same, Archbold’s death isn’t so easy to explain. None of his fellow competitors fell ill, and though they may seem gross, “80 percent of the world’s population routinely dines on insects.” The little critters are hardly as toxic as we might like to believe.

Some have speculated that it may have been a food allergy, of all things. If Archbold was allergic to shellfish, he was probably also allergic to roaches. During the competition, Archbold was literally shoveling the household pests into his mouth with such speed that spectators couldn’t keep count of how many he had consumed. It would be like someone with a severe peanut allergy downing several canisters of Skippy.

Another theory is that the sharp spines on the roaches’ legs slashed his digestive system, which is one of the reasons why experts strictly advise against eating live roaches like the ones at Midnight Madness. “It’s like swallowing a fishhook,” said Florence Vaccarello Dunkel, associate professor of entomology at Montana State University and editor of the Food Insect Newsletter.

With the cause of death still a mystery, the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy on Archbold’s body; at the time of this writing, the results are still pending.

In other health-related news, the fungal meningitis outbreak that has been sweeping the nation has now reached 185 infections across 12 states. If you haven’t been keeping up with this story, the gist of the matter is that a batch of a spinal steroid primarily used to combat back pain was contaminated during the compounding process. 12 deaths have already been reported across six states, and about 13,000 more patients could still be at risk.

In order to protect the public from the rare fungal meningitis, the Food and Drug Administration ultimately recalled 34 different medications distributed by the New England Compounding Center, which had shipped the now-recalled doses to 75 facilities in 23 states. As you might expect, lawsuits against the company are now underway, particularly since reports now indicate that the pharmacy violated its license by shipping the drug en masse like a manufacturer instead of only distributing it in response to an individual prescription.

Some analysts argue that this is just the surface of a much larger problem: the lack of oversight over compounding companies like the New England Compounding Center. While the company had been given a warning for earlier license violations several years ago, no further action was ever taken against it. The big problem is that compounding companies fall into “a legal no man’s land between the Food and Drug Administration and 50 state pharmacy boards, most of which have little expertise and limited resources to ensure the safety of these products.”

Such operations used to be small-scale endeavors, designed to help patients who were unable to take name-brand drugs due to allergies or other unusual circumstances. At the time, such specialty shops needed little regulation. But in recent years they have rapidly expanded, turning into miniature drug companies with none of the regulation.

Doctors and patients turn to compounding companies due to their lower prices, or when traditional pharmaceutical firms find their medicines in short supply, but compounding companies do not go through the same safety checks when pushing their drugs onto the market. That wasn’t a big deal when they served a few individuals at a time, but once they turn into major suppliers, we risk a major outbreak like this one.

In other news, the space shuttle Endeavor continues its final journey this weekend, rolling through Los Angeles en route to the California Science Center, where it will remain for the rest of its days. All told, the 12-mile trip is expected to take about two days, as workers are having to cut down 400 trees and move power lines in order to make room for the shuttle to travel along major roads like Manchester, Crenshaw, and Martin Luther King Jr. The science center plans to plant 1,000 replacement trees after Endeavor’s trip is finished. Similarly, thousands of steel plates have been placed in order to more evenly distribute the shuttle’s 170,000 pounds across the old roads.

As you may have guessed, hundreds of spectators have gathered to watch the shuttle’s trip, up close and personal, every step of the way. If you weren’t able to make the trip, though, you can check out some ultra-high-resolution pictures of Endeavor which were taken by National Geographic last month. How ultra is “ultra”? Let’s put it this way: Their size is measured in gigapixels.

In international news, on Friday the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner. Normally this wouldn’t be quite such a big story, except that the committee made a rather unusual choice for its recipient: the European Union.

The strange part about this decision isn’t that the award is going to an organization, mind you. That’s pretty typical, actually. But it’s rather strange to see the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to an organization that, at the moment, is in shambles. The 27-country bloc has been ravaged by rioting in recent years — need I point out again that this is supposedly a “Peace Prize”? — and is rife with political rifts among its member nations who have grown increasingly concerned about their own interests as their respective economies crumble.

A central question for the EU right now is how to handle Greece’s bailout. The issue has spurred “economic war” between Germany, a major member of the EU, and the bloc’s southern members, whose economies are in the midst of a catastrophe. However, Germany’s concern for its own wellbeing has the country to resist freely giving fiscal help to its fellow EU members, instead demanding “painful austerity” in exchange for any assistance.

Some have said that by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, the Nobel Committee is making a political statement instead of recognizing great achievements, like those of past winners Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa. After all, the announcement itself sounded, at points, like a plea for the organization to resolve its myriad crises instead of a decree that it was already a model for others to follow. Consider the words of Thorbjørn Jagland, the Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman: “We see already now an increase of extremism and nationalistic attitudes. There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating. Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization.”

No wonder many are calling this more of a political statement than a true award. As at least one commentator noted, the whole situation is reminiscent of the 1973 award, which was given to Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger. Yes, that’s right. The Nobel Peace Prize was given in the middle of the Vietnam War to the U.S. Secretary of State (Kissinger) and the spokesman of the North–Vietnamese delegation to the Paris Peace Conference (Tho). A joint “Peace” award for two leading statesmen of two countries at war with one another. Do you think that was a real award, or a not-so-hidden political message? Then what about the same “Peace” award going to an organization whose members are currently mired in riots and an “economic war” with one another?

Alright, just because it’s been a wild week, we have to get to at least a few sports headlines. In particular, all four Major League Baseball Division Series came to an end on Thursday and Friday, with each one going the maximum five games before a victor was decided. The Detroit Tigers took the deciding game in Oakland, shutting out the Athletics 6-0 to reach the American League Championship Series. That also continues the magical run for Detroit’s Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

They’ll be joined by the New York Yankees, who survived a grueling series against the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees won Game 3 in 12 innings and lost a 13-inning Game 4, then took advantage of a disputed non-home run call to earn a 3-1 win in Game 5 (with Alex Rodriguez on the bench, by the way).

The San Francisco-Cincinnati series was particularly strange, as neither team won a single home game. The Giants eventually surpassed the Reds with a 6-4 victory in Game 5 to reach the National League Championship Series. (Some say that losing three straight home games to blow a 2-0 series lead may have cost Reds manager Dusty Baker his job.)

San Francisco will face the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, who beat the Washington Nationals, the team with the best record in baseball, in order to advance. That may have been the craziest series of all, as St. Louis fell behind 6-0 in the third inning of Game 5 before inching closer, run by run, inning by inning. They were down to their final strike twice in the ninth inning before stringing together four runs and winning it 9-7. The Cardinals’ six-run comeback was the largest in a win-or-go-home game in postseason history, topping the four-run deficits overcome by the 2003 Yankees and the 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates. Their victory was so shocking, in fact, that even ESPN managed to get the result wrong:

Nationals win! Nationals win! Nationals... win?

Politics, sports, crime beats, drugs, bugs, a space shuttle, and a Nobel Prize. What more could you ask for?

Other articles of interest:
Heaven Is Real: A Doctor’s Experience With the Afterlife
Millions of unexploded bombs lie in waters off US coast, researchers say
US: Hackers in Iran responsible for cyberattacks
Roseanne Barr among presidential candidates on Florida ballot
Industry sues over NYC crackdown on sugary drinks
Google may be hit with antitrust case from the FTC
NASA developing exoskeleton for astronauts and the earthbound
Man attempts to “walk” across Irish sea in a human hamster wheel
Pimped Baby Stroller Goes 50 MPH
Michael Vick confirms that a dog is now part of his family

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