Oct. 28: Presidential Debates Round Three: Can you win by tying?

Going into the third and final presidential debate on Monday, most major polls had Barack Obama and Mitt Romney effectively tied, with the difference between them within the margin of error. With the momentum swinging toward Romney, though, some analysts argued that Obama needed to completely dominate the last debate in order to stem the tide. But despite Obama’s best efforts, such dominance was nowhere to be found as the two candidates fought to a draw over foreign policy.

Well, actually, that’s not quite correct. The two candidates didn’t really fight to a draw. Obama indeed fought throughout the debate as he went on the offensive, trying to slam Romney throughout the affair. But Romney would have none of it, choosing to focus on the similarities between the two candidates’ policies instead of highlighting differences. He passed up countless opportunities to hammer Obama on how he handled foreign policy nightmares like the tragedy in Benghazi, to take a stand against Cuba in order to impress Florida voters, or to simply pressure Obama on the increasingly bloody global climate.

In short, Romney had no interest in clashing with his opponent, so he instead strove for a tie throughout the third debate, avoiding confrontation and merely wearing down his opponent in order to keep the momentum from shifting. It was a stark contrast with the unrelenting aggression in the first two debates, and Romney’s third-debate strategy reminded some viewers of the famous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. In that bout, Ali feigned a passive approach by absorbing punches on the ropes and clinching with his opponent. Ali hardly bothered to attack his opponent until the end of the fight, at which point he unleashed a ferocious assault to knock out the exhausted Foreman.

Hey, if nothing else, at least we didn’t need an NFL-style referee for round three of the debates.

The post-debate polls were something less than conclusive, with neither candidate decisively winning across all the surveys. While some polls handed Obama victory in the second and third debates, the margin was insufficient to overcome his devastating loss in the first debate. A Rasmussen poll indicated that Romney won the debate series by an 8% margin of likely voters, while Gallup had the margin at only 2% after the last debate.

Either way, Romney has maintained fairly steady advancement in national polls since the first debate, and with some saying that the Emir of Qatar was the biggest winner of debate #3, Obama hardly scored the crushing blow for which he hoped. Nonetheless, some speculate that he may have at least slowed Romney’s momentum enough to swing the pendulum back in his own direction by the time the nation casts its ballots on Nov. 6. And it can’t make the Romney camp happy to see that Obama still leads the electoral map based on the average of state polls, even as he lags by a full percentage point in the average nationwide popular vote.

Regardless of how the election ends, this has been a very unusual campaign cycle. Normally the debates have minimal effect on the outcome of an election, but they could be the deciding factor in the 2012 showdown. Obama has not gained the decisive edge over social media that he enjoyed in his 2008 rout of John McCain, as Romney’s team has taken the online domain much more seriously than Republicans did four years ago. This has forced Obama to grow far more overtly aggressive — pardon the explicit quotation from the sitting president, who in a recent interview with Rolling Stone said that children “look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.'” The claim prompted Romney’s team to call the incumbent rattled and unpresidential, while Obama’s campaign advisors protested that the word itself shouldn’t serve as a distraction from Obama’s attack on Romney’s track record.

The close election may cause votes for third-party candidates to tilt swing state results, much like Al Gore’s loss in 2000 was attributed, in part, to Ralph Nader’s presence on the ballot. The weather could also play a major role: Hurricane Sandy has forced both sides to cancel events for the sake of safety, and election day storms might deter unenthusiastic voters from the polls.

In any case, with election day just over a week away, time is running out for both candidates to make their final stand. It won’t be long until we know who stands at the head of our nation for the next four years.

Over the past few weeks, several readers have talked about praying that an 82-game NHL season might still happen. Sorry to disappoint you. With lockout negotiations between players and owners stalled once again, the league moved on Friday to cancel all games through November. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman previously said that Thursday was the absolute deadline to reach an agreement in order to preserve a full season. The move also puts the Winter Classic in jeopardy, and the entire season may soon be lost unless a collective bargaining agreement is reached very soon.

With the frustration mounting for players, owners, and fans alike, it’s little surprise to hear high-profile rookies chastise the league for appearing to renege on their contracts, while others say the owners are just trying to satisfy their egos in continuing to resist an agreement. Soon, the fans may have little choice but to follow the EA Sports simulated season instead of the real deal. (Montreal has won all of its first eight games, incidentally.)

In cycling, Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace may be complete, as the much-heralded cancer survivor and competitor was officially stripped of his seven Tour de France titles on Monday. After refusing to continue his fight against long-debated doping allegations earlier this year — it should be noted that he never admitted guilt in declining to continue contesting the claims — Armstrong’s legacy has collapsed around him. In fact, as far as the record books are concerned, Lance Armstrong never existed, and the 1999-2005 races may be left without any official winners. This move comes as little surprise to those who have followed the story for the past few months, but it’s still quite shocking given Armstrong’s stature as a champion and charity figurehead just a few short months ago.

The NFL’s San Diego Chargers are in hot water for the possible illegal use of a sticky substance to make it easier for their receivers to catch passes. Head coach Norv Turner has steadfastly supported his players, vehemently denying that any of them were engaged in such foul play. But if it turns out that the Chargers did indeed try to cheat during their Monday night loss to the Denver Broncos, it could mean major sanctions and even the end of Turner’s tenure as San Diego’s head coach.

Elsewhere, a fan was rushed to the hospital in critical condition after falling from an escalator in the New York Jets’ MetLife Stadium. As far as the media has been informed, David Chupcavich is still hospitalized. Fans initially tweeted that the 42-year-old fell to his death, so it’s a relief to hear that those reports were mistaken. (The same, tragically, could not be said of 25-year-old Jonathon Kelly, who fell to his death after a Houston Texans preseason game in August.)

A Cyprus football (soccer for the American readers) match last Sunday featured its share of injuries, albeit from a very different source. During the game between rivals Anorthosis and Omonia Nicosia, a player for the Anorthosis squad appeared to be injured, so play was halted as he received treatment from medical staff. There was some debate at the time about whether he was feigning injury in order to stall for time. Regardless of that, however, no one expected what happened next: a disgruntled fan lobbed an explosive device at the downed player and the medical staff treating him. The blast sent players and officials flying, and while no one was seriously injured, it left almost everyone nearby covering their ears from the noise. Those closest to the explosion instead clutched their burned faces in pain as they fell to the ground. It remains unclear whether or not the culprit was ever caught.

The fungal meningitis outbreak across the country is getting worse, with 25 dead and well over 300 infected across 28 states. To add insult to injury, the New England Compounding Center (NECC), which made the steroid injections that appear to be the source of this large-scale outbreak, has a long history of mold and bacteria growing on the walls of supposedly sterile drug mixing areas.

According to regulators, the company found dangerously high levels of mold and bacteria in January and did nothing about it. The pharmacy also dodged a proposed reprimand in 2004 after protesting that the punishment — which was for falling short of accepted standards in producing the same steroid that caused this outbreak — would be fatal to their business. Their business has instead been fatal to at least 25 unwitting patients.

On Friday, the FDA released what may be the most terrifying report yet. They tested 50 vials that were among those suspected of causing the outbreak. All 50 were contaminated by fungus or bacteria. But back in August, the NECC internally tested a vial from the same batch and labelled it sterile.

In other medical news, a new study in the journal The Lancet found that, controlling for other factors, women who quit smoking by age 40 live about ten years longer than those who continue for life. (The study’s authors indicated that previous studies wrongly underestimated this effect.) Not that it’s necessarily a good idea to plan for 40 as a stopping point, of course. Even ignoring the difficulty of ending a long-term addiction, those who smoke until 40 lose an average of a year of life compared to non-smokers, while those who quit at 30 tend to drop only a month of their lifespan. Of course, the risk is greatly affected by how much one smokes. As Professor Sir Richard Peto, one of the study’s co-authors, noted, “If women smoke like men, they die like men — but, whether they are men or women, smokers who stop before reaching middle age will on average gain about an extra 10 years of life.”

Maybe the approval process for Apple’s App Store isn’t such a bad thing after all. Last week, researchers from Leibniz University released a report of their studies on 13,500 Android apps. According to the researchers, 1,074 of the apps contained flaws in their SSL implementation, leaving them vulnerable to leaking personal information to attackers. The team further scrutinized 41 vulnerable apps and were ultimately able to gather a great deal of private information from unwitting users, from Facebook logins to American Express credentials. In all, 15% of the apps that used SSL featured these dangerous flaws, including both fake apps and those from legitimate marketplaces.

If you thought that America left racism in its past when it elected Barack Obama president, you’re wrong. An Associated Press poll indicates that “51 per cent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 per cent in a similar 2008 survey.” When attitudes were measured indirectly, rather than through explicit questions about anti-black prejudices, that number jumped to 56%. Much the same was found of attitudes toward Hispanics. Race experts were not surprised by the findings, saying that while the popular perception is one of progress, history disagrees. We have certainly come a long way since the days of race-based slavery in the U.S., but as scholars have noted, for every bit of progress made, backlash and polarization comes alongside it. It may take many more generations before such attitudes truly start to dwindle.

Let’s switch to a lighter story. If you’re sick of unwanted telemarketers interrupting your day, you’ll love British businessman Richard Herman’s revenge. Herman grew increasingly aggravated over the slew of cold calls he was receiving, and the last straw came when his cell phone repeatedly interrupted a rare quiet afternoon in his garden. So he decided to send an invoice to the most frequent offender, billing them for his time. The case ultimately went to court, and astonishingly, Herman won, compelling the company to pay 195 pounds (roughly $314.57) for making him field their calls. As Herman put it,

We’re all busy rushing around all day long, so when we snatch 4 minutes by ourselves for a bit of peace and quiet, the last thing you want is to be intruded upon by these irrelevant companies

In contrast, you have to feel bad for Mary Archer, a 56-year-old assistant manager at an Arby’s restaurant in Fairborn, Ohio. Around 1:00 a.m. on Friday, Archer was closing the restaurant for the night when a man with a knife confronted her. Thankfully, she managed to escape through the drive-thru window — but stunningly, Arby’s fired her for fleeing the armed robbery. According to the corporation, Archer violated company policy when she left the restaurant, as there must be at least two employees in the store at all times. When Archer left, only one employee was left in the facility, so she broke the rules. Never mind the man with the knife.

Archer’s daughter said that this was the third robbery attempt in the past six months, and that her mother had the misfortune to be on duty every single time. This was evidently the first time she tried to flee the attack. Archer has worked for Arby’s for 23 years, but after this termination, she said that she doesn’t want her job back. It’s hard to blame her.

In contrast, a San Antonio woman had the brilliant idea to fake her own kidnapping in order to avoid going to work. On October 10, police found 48-year-old Sheila Bailey Eubank bound with rope in her car. She claimed that a man had entered her vehicle and held her at knifepoint, forcing her to take him on drug runs. According to Eubank, the man subsequently had her drive the car into a field, then tied her up and left her there. But detectives found a lottery ticket in her purse that was purchased during the period when she was supposedly being held hostage. Surveillance footage at the store where she purchased the ticket confirmed that she was alone, and that the entire abduction was a fabrication. On Wednesday, Eubank was arrested and charged with aggravated perjury.

Science-fiction fans will love this next story. If you’ve ever dreamed of having your own cloaking device, maybe you were just born the wrong species. A team of researchers from Bristol University found that silvery fish like herring, sardines, and sprat have multiple layers of reflective guanine crystals in their skin. Normally, this would polarize reflected light, much like the glare which photographers overcome using special filters. But the researchers discovered that these fish have two different types of guanine crystal in their skin rather than just one. By manipulating both brands of guanine, the fish can avoid polarizing reflected light and create an optical illusion that makes them appear invisible to predators. This finding may inspire better optical devices — or cloaking technologies — in the future.

Finally, we have MIT graduate student Sung Wook Paek who proposed a new method of combating incoming asteroids: paintball. No, I’m not making this up. The basic idea is that, a few decades before the apocalyptic impact, the paintball pellets would cover the asteroid in a blinding white. The impact of the paintballs alone would hardly be enough to prevent disaster, but sunlight bouncing off the asteroid would push it much further off course over time. Using the asteroid Apophis — which is expected to pass close to our planet in both 2029 and 2036 — as an example, it would take five tons of paint to cover the asteroid with a five-micrometer layer of paint. If the asteroid was doused 20 years before a prospective impact, the collective impact of photos slamming against the paint across two decades would be sufficient to push the object off course. Paek’s paper won the 2012 Move an Asteroid Technical Paper Competition, which was sponsored by the United Nations.

There’s no word about whether Paek’s technique would work on a giant ball of garbage, I’m afraid.

Other articles of interest:
User interface guru: With Windows 8, Microsoft throws users “under the bus”
Big surprise: Bill Gates thinks Windows 8 is great
Windows 8, Surface: A Fresh Start, but Buyers May Need Convincing
Apple plays hardball with iPad Mini reveal
‘iPad mini’ event reaffirmed to highlight education uses
Ceglia To Face Facebook Fraud Charges
Ancestry.com to be sold for $1.6 billion
US astronaut sees science breakthrough in space
Jobs That Make the World a Worse Place
Docs call for changes to prevent cheer injuries
Assisted Reproductive Technology Linked to Heart Defect Risk
AP basketball poll: Indiana is preseason No. 1
Traces of cocaine and marijuana found in air of eight Italian cities
New York court finds pole dancing revenue can be taxed
Woman auctions virginity for $780,000

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