Dec. 2, 2012: Chiefs Linebacker Commits Murder-Suicide, Glass Found in Anti-Cholesterol Medication

How about we shake things up a bit this week? Let’s start with some sports news for a change.

College football’s regular season came to an end yesterday, with the Alabama Crimson Tide edging out the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship, 32-28, to win a national title shot against the undefeated Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish boast the second-stingiest defense in college football, with approximately 10.33 points allowed per game. Only Alabama itself allows fewer points per game: 10.31.

In hockey, federal mediators have failed to resolve the stalemate in the NHL’s labor talks, leaving the entire season’s cancellation feeling more likely by the day, while my St. Louis Blues’ inability to even win a virtual hockey game grows just as paramount. (Thanks, EA Sports.)

But the biggest athletic headline of the week was a shocker. Yesterday, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, whose team lost its eighth straight game last week to fall to 1-10 on the year, shot and killed his girlfriend before driving to Arrowhead Stadium and committing suicide in front of his coach and general manager.

Police have not released a motive for the murder-suicide, but they said that the couple got into an argument around 7:00 a.m. At 7:50, Belcher shot his girlfriend, Kasandra M. Perkins, multiple times; she was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors pronounced her dead. The couple’s three-month-old daughter evidently saw her mother being killed, and she was interviewed by police yesterday, as was Perkins’ mother, who also witnessed the shooting.

Belcher, in the meantime, stood in the parking lot of his team’s practice facility, thanked Kansas City’s general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel for their support during his four years wearing a Chiefs uniform, and when police arrived at the scene, shot himself.

The news stunned those who didn’t know about Belcher’s personal issues. The linebacker was described as a man who practiced hard and played hard, who never missed a game, and who even made multiple charity appearances.

At present, the Chiefs’ game this afternoon against the Carolina Panthers is set to proceed as scheduled, as the league advised Carolina to go ahead and travel to Kansas City pending further notice.

In somewhat lighter football news, two Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders had their heads shaved during the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s 20-13 win over the Buffalo Bills.

There's probably a one-liner for this, but is it really necessary?

Cheerleaders Megan M. and Crystal Ann made the decision to shave their heads after seeing a number of Colts players do so in honor of head coach Chuck Pagano, who lost his hair from chemotherapy and radiation treatment for leukemia. When the team’s mascot, “Blue,” tweeted to ask the cheerleaders if they would shave their heads if he raised $10,000 for leukemia research, Megan immediately rose to the challenge, kicking off #OperationShaveMegansHead.

Two weeks and $22,670 later, as Megan M. was about to face her fate alone, Crystal Ann decided to join her under the razor. More than 60,000 spectators rewarded the pair with roaring applause, yet Megan M. said that the real encouragement should be directed to those who are fighting to survive: “I just shaved my head. These people are going through the battle for their life and they’re really the ones who deserve all the praise.”

While some were watching cheerleaders getting shaved, others paid closer attention to the climbing Powerball jackpot, which leapt to a record $587.5 million before Wednesday night’s drawing. It’s also the second-largest lottery jackpot of any kind in U.S. history. Two winning tickets were confirmed to have been sold, with one each in Arizona and Missouri.

Nolan Daniels proclaimed his big win on Facebook, showing off a picture of himself grinning while flashing his ticket with the winning numbers. To make matters more interesting, he promised to share $1 million of his winnings with one random Facebook user who “shared” his photo with others. As he put it,

Looks like I won’t be going to work EVER!!!! Share this photo and I will give a random person 1 million dollars!

That set off a torrent of activity revolving around Daniels’ account, averaging 1,000 shares a minute.

The face of a multi-millionaire.

The only problem: Daniels’ ticket was an obvious fake. The pixelation around portions of the ticket (like the winning numbers) made it obvious enough. And as a number of Facebook users pointed out, the Photoshopped ticket had the wrong price, and the winning numbers weren’t even listed in ascending order, as they would be on a real ticket.

Yet almost two million people bought the lie — at the time of this writing, the only photo associated with Nolan Daniels’ Facebook account has 1,856,588 shares. (It also has over 23,000 likes and 11,000 comments, with one of the most recent commenters simply scolding the “1,856,460 idiots.” Others continue to congratulate Daniels for the false win.)

One analyst roughly split the thousands of comments into three groups: the critics who simply sit back and blast Daniels and those who want his money, the beggars and liars pleading for their take, and the “Naive, sweet, innocent, insane, nice folks” who wished him all the best with his newfound wealth.

What does this say about the state of the average Facebook user, or of the world as a whole? Good question. Maybe it’s pitiful to see so many people trying to take advantage of others. Perhaps it’s sad to watch so many people get fooled by such an obvious ruse. Or maybe Daniels’ trick is actually a new type of interactive art form that gets the whole world involved in the show. Well, like so many other things in life, it’s at least interesting to watch the chaos unfold, if nothing else.

Here are three words that you never want to see associated with your car: “spontaneous engine combustion.” But that’s the story behind Ford’s recall of the 2013 Fusion and Escape, whose engines are prone to bursting into flame without warning. The overheating issue that causes this combustion is not the first Ford failure this year; most recently, the company recalled about 6,100 Escape crossovers in September due to coolant leaks.

This particular recall is for the Fusion SEL and SE models with a 1.6 liter engine as well as the Escape SEL and SE models; other models are not included in the recall notice. That amounts to roughly 73,000 Escapes and 16,000 Fusions that need to stay in park. While there is not yet a repair option in place, Ford recommends that owners get a temporary replacement vehicle from their dealers.

If you need to see if your vehicle has been recalled, check the 17-character VIN number. If the eighth character is an R (on the Fusion) or an X (on the Escape), your next trip should be to the local dealership.

Thankfully, some machines work a bit better than the Fusion and Escape. Take the new robots developed at MIT, for instance. The researchers were interested in designing robots that could perform a wide range of different tasks, so they modeled their new device out of protein chains, which can “fold” themselves into exceedingly complex shapes. In the end, they created a caterpillar-sized robot that can change itself into a wide range of different physical forms.

That’s right. This robot transforms.

The concept of shape-shifting robots is nothing new, of course, but this is the first time that it’s been successfully implemented. While the researchers described it as the Swiss army knife of robots, that probably downplays the significance of an innovation which foretells robots that fold themselves into virtually any shape imaginable. All-purpose robots that do anything we could ask are actually on the horizon, and they could revolutionize the entire realm of technology in the not-so-distant future.

The MIT robot was a huge success on a number of levels, with the key bit of genius being motors that move at certain angles and hold their position — even with the power switched off. Sure, it’s not like we’ll all own personal Transformers next week, but it’s still exciting to realize that we’re on the cusp of moving beyond the era of fixed-function robots.

In medical news, the fungal meningitis outbreak that we’ve been discussing for weeks is still spreading, with at least three dozen deaths now reported across the U.S., but the lawsuits against the New England Compounding Center (NECC) are already moving forward.

Lawyers for the NECC have pushed to consolidate the lawsuits into a single federal case over which they want a Boston judge to preside. At present, there are already 70 federal lawsuits and dozens more in various local courts. The compounding firm’s lawyers say that they expect the total number of suits to exceed 400.

In the meantime, federal prosecutors appear to be setting up a criminal case against the company and its leaders, as they have set up a grand jury probe of the pharmacy. The grand jury has filed a number of subpoenas for people who worked at the NECC, and at least one employee from a related company, Medical Sales Management of Framingham, has also been called to testify. At least some of these people are expected to testify in a Boston court next week.

But that’s no longer the only major medication catastrophe. Indian drug giant Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited, the nation’s largest drug maker by sales, is recalling generic batches of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor from the U.S. market and halting further production.

Why? Because apparently it’s bad to have glass in your pills.

In a development that reminds some of the fake Shards o’ Glass Freeze Pops commercials, Ranbaxy is shutting down all production while it probes the “possible” presence of “very small glass particles similar to the size of a grain of sand” in its products, according to a company statement on Saturday. This comes after the company first issued a voluntary recall of existing prescriptions on November 9; evidently, the problem was a little more widespread than the one-time incident that the company first suspected.

It’s noteworthy that Ranbaxy engaged in a lengthy battle with U.S. regulators earlier this year over requests for tighter quality control checks. The company also faced allegations that it submitted false data in drug applications to the FDA.

Ranbaxy is responsible for producing about one-third of all generic Lipitor versions. The FDA says it has yet to receive any reports of patients being harmed by the glass particulates, but anyone who is currently taking a generic version of Lipitor are advised to consult with their pharmacist to see whether it came from Ranbaxy, and if so, to cease taking it and to talk with a doctor about getting an alternative supply.

In less depressing health news, researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) have been working on reliable ways to use modern medicine to extend the natural lifespan. Past research has used gene therapy on embryonic mice, but that approach required regular drug treatments in order to keep the mice healthy after the fact. The CNIO’s new study, however, uses an approach called telomerase gene therapy which is instead applied to adult mice. Not only were the researchers able to increase the lives of the mice in question by 24%, but the life extension required only a single treatment.

Some, like noted futurist Ray Kurzweil, have speculated that near-immortality may be possible in the near future through such treatments. The researchers themselves don’t believe that we’re quite so close to that outcome, but they are hoping that telomerase gene therapy might delay age-related illnesses like osteoporosis and pulmonary fibrosis, both in animals and in humans.

Let’s close with a little toilet art. No, not toilet humor — even if a recent New Mexico University graduate’s toilet paper apology for a college prank qualifies. I mean toilet art. That’s the newest contribution of Suwon, a small South Korean town which features the world’s first toilet park.

You read that right.

You see, Suwon once had Sim Jae-duck, whom some called “Mr. Toilet” before his passing in 2009, as its mayor. According to lore, Sim was born in his grandmother’s outhouse, and he went on to spread the word about the benefits of hygienic toilets around the globe through the organization he founded, the World Toilet Association. As Sim was described by Lee Yeun-sook, manager of planning at the Mr. Toilet Sim Jae-duck Foundation,

He is a man whose life literally began in a toilet and ended at a commode-shaped house.

Sim’s biggest claim to fame was his work provided restrooms to fans attending the 2002 World Cup hosted by Seoul, which is about 29 miles north of Suwon. As a tribute to the legend, Sim’s old hometown developed the free Toilet Culture Park, which features such wonders as a replica of The Thinker astride a receptacle and a mural showing nothing but buttocks above smiling coils of feces.

In fairness, South Korea has seen the condition of its toilets improve by leaps and bounds in the span of a generation, as the nation has grown from near-poverty to veritable riches. As one middle-aged tourist said, “For our generation, a toilet was a very dirty and smelly place where you never wanted to go. But now it is totally different.”

This is hardly the last movement (no pun intended) toward praising toilets, either. The Toilet Culture Park has attracted roughly 40,000 visitors since it opened in July, so now the town is planning to build a second toilet-themed center near the first. They hope to have it finished by 2014. Be thankful for it, too, because we obviously need more of this:

If my waste ever looks like that, somebody needs to take me to the hospital.

Other articles of interest:
Egyptians fear decades of Muslim Brotherhood rule, warn Morsi is no friend to US
Egypt’s president sets date for constitution vote
Syria crisis: Damascus internet back after blackout
North Korea plans long-range rocket launch
Mexico swears in president, putting old ruling party back in power amid violent protests
Rice in fight for political future
Supreme Court to decide if human genes patentable
Utah Lawmaker Seeks to Ban Sex-Selective Abortion
Ohio man gets jail for mocking disabled girl
1928 Mickey Mouse poster sells for $101K
Original Batmobile to be auctioned
Fake plane crash fools TV station
5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8
Baylor ends No. 8 Kentucky’s 55-game home winning streak
Study: Women spend more time ogling women


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