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Dec. 16, 2012: MY LAST POST EVER! MAYBE!

…Well, actually, only if you still buy into all that 2012 apocalypse chatter. If the world ends next Friday, I’ll be hard-pressed to post on Sunday, won’t I? But let’s be honest: if it’s anything like all the Y2K hubbub, we’ll just watch a few end-of-the-world parties unfold and then go back to our daily lives.

While you’re almost certain to see another post here next week, this one will be a bit shorter than usual, as I feel that it’s appropriate to focus on just one news item this week: the school shooting in Connecticut.

On Friday morning, 20-year-old Adam Lanza of Newtown began the day by shooting his mother in the face with one of her own guns. He then grabbed at least two more of her firearms, and with no less than three semi-automatic weapons on hand, donned camouflage gear and embarked on a two-mile trek to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Upon arriving, Lanza forced his way into the school, firing several rounds through the front door in order to bypass the newly-installed security system before marching into the building. As teachers and staff frantically tried to call the police and hide the children, Lanza went on a rampage, entering one classroom after another and killing as many children and adults as he could find.

A chilling intercom broadcast alerted other students and teachers to the danger. It’s not clear whether the intercom was activated for morning announcements, or whether it was switched on for the sole purpose of informing the school, but classes across the school heard their principal’s cries and screams as she lunged at Lanza; her efforts to delay the shooter’s progress cost Principal Dawn Hochsprung her life. While the broadcast was surely traumatic, it served its purpose, giving teachers a few precious extra moments to safeguard their students before Lanza reached them.

As Lanza began his attack, several other courageous individuals took action, some losing their lives in the process of protecting those around them.

One librarian, Mary Ann Jacob, shouted “Lockdown!” to alert her fourth-grade students, then crawled with them into a storage closet and barricaded the door — which had no locking mechanism — with a file cabinet. Only when police officers slipped a badge under the door did the teacher and her students remove the barricade.

First-grade teacher Vicki Leigh Soto “put herself between the kids and the gunman’s bullets.” She hid her first-graders in the closet so that when the shooter arrived, he would think that the room was otherwise empty. The 27-year-old teacher’s ploy worked. Lanza killed her and then, seeing no children in the room, moved elsewhere to look for other targets.

This is the face of a hero.

Even some of the students acted to protect their classmates, keeping their classmates calm and ushering them to safety during the evacuation to a nearby fire station.

But not everyone was fortunate enough to escape the attack. All told, Lanza murdered 20 children and six adult women at the school before killing himself. Counting the culprit and his mother, a total of 28 lives were extinguished in this horrific assault.

All of the 20 children who Lanza murdered came from two first grade classes. According to reports, “It came out pretty quickly that there were almost two full classes missing.” One of the girls who was killed had just turned seven on Tuesday.

Even more disturbingly, every single one of the 12 girls, eight boys, and six adult women who Lanza killed was shot multiple times, according to Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver II. When asked about the autopsy, Carver called it “the worst I have seen.

The attack was the deadliest incident at an elementary school in U.S. history. It is also the second-deadliest shooting at an American school of any level; only the 2006 Virginia Tech assault claimed more lives.

As the shock turns to grief, figures from around the world offer their well wishes to those affected by the tragedy, and parents are reminded just how fragile and precious their children’s lives are, the key question that remains is what could have prompted such viciousness. It does not appear that Lanza did any special preparation for the attack, but rather spontaneously went on a killing spree. So what could have driven Adam Lanza, pictured below, to maliciously kill every child and teacher he could find?

Adam Lanza

Well, that’s one question for which we’re still trying to get answers. Police are still investigating the matter, including why Lanza would target an elementary school, of all places. (Contrary to early reports, it does not appear that Lanza’s mother was a substitute teacher at the school or affiliated with it in any other capacity.)

Lanza reportedly suffered from a personality disorder, and his older brother described him as “somewhat autistic.” Other descriptions included “loner” and “a genius and a computer geek.”

Notably, Lanza visited the school the day before the shooting and got into a “wild argument” with four of the teachers. Three of those teachers were among the six whom Lanza killed; the fourth was not at school on Friday. The sole survivor of the altercation has been interviewed by police, and reporters are speculating that her statement may hold the key to Lanza’s motive.

Shockingly, the mass murder in Connecticut wasn’t the only such plot that day. In Oklahoma, a Bartlesville High School student was arrested in his home at 4:30 a.m. on Friday following reports of a planned attack during that schoolday. Evidently, 18-year-old Sammie Eaglebear Chavez had tried to convince other students to help him lure classmates into the auditorium, where he would then chain the doors shut and start shooting them. He also reportedly planned to place bombs at the auditorium doors and denotate them when police arrived.

Many believe that the tragic events on Friday are bound to stir up fresh debate on gun control laws in the U.S., and some say that the latest shooting may be the tipping point that forces Congress to take action. In a statement responding to the tragedy, President Obama appeared to agree, telling reporters that “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.

Rather than focusing on laws or politics, however, most are directing their attention to honoring the memories of the children and teachers who we lost two days ago. From candlelight prayer vigils to Twitter mementos, everyone is finding their own way to grieve and to leave one last memento of their parents, children, colleagues, and friends. And you have to feel for those parents who had to ask police to tell them about their children’s final moments.

It is easy for us to think about tragedies like these for a few months and then, if we don’t personally know someone who was involved, move on with our lives. After all, it’s only been a few months since James Holmes’ attack on 70 unsuspecting moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, yet that incident crossed few people’s minds today. Perhaps this time, we can make the memory, at least, last a little longer. Perhaps this time, if there is anything for us to learn from this massacre, we can keep those lessons with us.

Other articles of interest:
Tensions rise as Egyptians vote on new constitution
Police: 8 year old Girl Gang Raped by 4 Boys
Torrance DUI suspect hits pedestrian, drives 2 miles with dying man stuck in windshield
Catholic basketball schools announce Big East departure
Barack Obama Tells NHL and Players to ‘Do Right by Your Fans’
ESPN’s Rob Parker Suspended After Calling Robert Griffin III a “Cornball Brother”
Stunning Geminid Meteor Shower Wows Skywatchers
New meteor shower might coincide with 2012 Geminids!
Nearly 1 million in Mass. exposed to secondhand smoke from neighbors
Ray Kurzweil Joins Google In Full-Time Engineering Director Role; Will Focus On Machine Learning, Language Processing
Wal-Mart puts iPhone 5 on sale for $127; are iPhone sales dragging?
Google Maps, Apple Maps, What Each Can’t Find
Why Making Robots Is So Darn Hard
Opening the Doors to the Life of Pi
Scientists pinpoint the age of cheese: 7,000 years old and counting

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Nov. 11, 2012: President Barack Obama Wins Re-Election

The presidential election reached its conclusion late Tuesday night, with incumbent Barack Obama earning a second term in the Oval Office over challenger Mitt Romney. The result thrilled Obama’s supporters, who waited well past midnight to hear their candidate proclaim victory under the night sky in Chicago, reviving the inspirational rhetoric that drove voters in 2008. And it was a night of anguish for the Romney camp, with the team searching for an explanation — after all, if Romney had merely received as many votes as John McCain did in 2008, he would have won the election — and with Republicans astonishingly losing ground in the Senate when they hoped to instead overtake the left-wing majority.

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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.

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Oct. 21, 2012: Presidential Debates Round Two: Obama didn’t repeat the first debate. But did he win?

After the second presidential debate, only one thing was clear: it was not a repeat of round one. President Barack Obama took the affair seriously, fighting back against Governor Mitt Romney in a stark contrast with the passiveness he displayed in the first debate. Many analysts and polls suggested that Obama a stole the advantage in round two thanks to a few Romney missteps, of which the most egregious was a mistaken claim about Obama's response to the Benghazi embassy attack. However, the reported win was, at the very least, less clear than Romney’s round one triumph, with Romney making several compelling points and imploring voters not “to settle” for the current economy.

With the narrower win in mind, the Obama camp has to be nervous about Romney’s momentum across the nation. While early vote totals have been quite high, suggesting an advantage for Obama in the November election — in recent years, more Democrats than Republicans have filed absentee ballots — the margin by which he leads those early votes is much smaller than the lead he held in 2008. With even major media outlets that supported Obama four years ago openly shifting toward Romney, the presidency may be within reach for the challenger.

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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.

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Oct. 7, 2012: Presidential Debates: Romney Takes Round One

Last week, I said that Mitt Romney “needs a big win” in the presidential debates, as his opponent, Barack Obama, was building his lead in several critical swing state polls. And it looks like Romney may have gotten just that. Over the past few weeks, Romney spent countless hours preparing for his first clash with Obama — the incumbent, in contrast, famously complained two days beforehand that preparation was “a drag. They’re making me do my homework” — and Romney’s strategy paid dividends Wednesday night as more than 70 million people watched him dominate the sitting president.

Romney appeared to be energized entering the debate, immediately taking control and keeping Obama on the defensive throughout the affair while repeatedly hammering his rival on the weak economy and high employment. While Obama at times tried to wax professorial, it was Romney who took him to school, making him look frustrated with the proceedings at times and unsure of himself at others. You can watch the full 90-minute debate below.

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Sep. 30, 2012: Here Come the Debates

Before we get to the big national story for the coming week, let’s address a few regional and international issues. Perhaps the top headline grabber over the past few days was the tragic shootings in Minneapolis which claimed six lives, including the shooter. Officials initially refused to specify how many people had been killed. Reports eventually indicated that the gunman, along with four victims, worked for Accent Signage Systems, an interior graphics and signage company. Later updates added a United Parcel Service driver for a total of six deaths.

All five victims died by gunshot, and Andrew J. Engeldinger, the shooter, committed suicide afterward. Several others were wounded in the deadly assault.

It appears that Engeldinger’s rampage was fueled by his termination from Accent just hours earlier. Oddly, Engeldinger’s attack may not have been a pure bout of blind rage, as he willfully bypassed several offices in his efforts to target a few specific individuals. However, family members did note that Engeldinger had grappled with mental illness for years; they said it was “not an excuse for his actions, but sadly, may be a partial explanation.”

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