Thursday, December 3, 2009

Was Latest Gang MS-13 Assassination Plot Unique or Trend?

December 2009 National Scene Magazine National Article

Was MS-13 Assassination Plot Unique or Latest Trend?

Government Discovered Hit Put Out on Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Who Lead Investigations into Gang’s Activities When Member Arrested

Written by: Karen Benardello

A contract was allegedly put out by the El Salvadoran leaders of the MS-13 gang on an unnamed federal agent who was responsible for the crackdown on its New York factions, the New York Daily News reported on Wednesday, November 4. The targeted agent was the lead investigator on many of the federal racketeering, murder and drug trafficking charges the members have recently faced.

The assassination of the unidentified Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent was revealed when reputed MS-13 gang member Walter (Duke) Torres was arrested in October. Torres alerted authorities to the plan after he and four other members of the gang, which was created by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and has since spread across the country and back into Central America, were stopped by NYPD detectives for hassling a passersby on Northern Blvd. in Queens.

Torres, who was brought to Rikers Island, as there was also a warrant out for his arrest in Virginia, told police on October 22 that he had information to pass on, the Daily News learned from court papers. The NYPD rightfully took alarm, as the FBI has declared MS-13 one of the most dangerous gangs in America, and there are up to 500 MS-13 members in the New York metropolitan area alone.

Torres stated that the order for the hit on the agent reportedly came from the gang’s leadership in El Salvador. It was supposed to be carried out by the gang’s Flushing “clique,” ICE agent Sean Sweeney wrote when drafting a new affidavit against Torres, charging Torres with conspiracy. Sweeney added that Torres belonged to the MS-13 sect in Virginia. He was put in charge of the murder plot, and traveled to New York in August for the specific purpose of participating in the planning and execution of the assassination.

The NYPD and FBI have every right to investigate and arrest every gang member suspected in the murder plot. Assassination plots should not be taken lightly, especially in this case, as the gang member were believed to be looking to buy a high-powered assault rifle, like an M-16, to penetrate the agent’s bulletproof vest.

Brooklyn Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann also made the right decision when he ordered Torres to be held without bail on Friday, October 30, as Queens is one of the hotspots of MS-13 criminal activity in New York. However, other federal agents should now be more careful and cautious when they are in pursuit of alleged MS-13 gang members, as the leaders may want further retaliation for Torres’ arrest.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

VA House of Delegate Ken Plum Debated Challenger Hugh "Mac" Cannon in Reston Last Month

Will their Views on the Important Issues Help Determine Who Will Win?
Incumbent Ken Plum (D, 36), of the VA House of Delegates, Challenges Hugh "Mac" Cannon (R) in Reston

Written by: Karen Benardello

11/09 National Article, National Scene Magazine

Democrat Ken Plum, the incumbent member in the 36th district of the Virginia House of Delegates (the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly), challenged Hugh “Mac” Cannon, the Republican vying for the seat, on October 1 at the Reston Community Television studios. With the upcoming election for the two-year seat, the two faced off while discussing the issues most important to the area, including commerce, education, transportation, and state revenue.

One of the biggest issues discussed during the debate was how to fund transportation. Plum most likely secured votes by saying the state shouldn’t raise the gasoline tax rate because the tax is outdated. The incumbent added that the House of Delegates needs to come to a consensus. In rebuttal, Cannon said that if he is elected, he would help move that process along by meeting with, and uniting, representatives from across Virginia. But Plum was skeptical this would happen, as he pointed to the fact that the last time the House of Delegates tried to unite on the issue of transportation was more than two decades ago.

The two also argued over higher education. Cannon stated that he is fighting for a higher rate of Virginian students being accepted into state universities and colleges. “…if (Virginian) students are earning the grades, live in the state and their families pay Virginia taxes they should be able to attend a state university. We need to keep our students here, we don’t need to export them to other states,” he said.

But Plum defended the choice of Virginian schools accepting so many out-of-state students, because the colleges and universities receive more money from these students, which helps them balance their budgets. He added that Virginia colleges would only be able to accept more in-state students if the state was able to fully fund the schools, but he doesn’t see that being economically possible in the near-future.

In an effort to help the state raise more money, Cannon stated that businesses need to stay in the region, taxes need to stay low, and regulations need to be in check. But he said he is afraid that if unions are planning on stepping into the area, businesses would be driven out of the area, as the unions would take away people’s right to work. The incumbent Plum responded by saying that if Reston has any hope to keep its businesses, and see an economic boost, leaders should invest in the area.

Both Plum and Cannon have valid points. Transportation costs need to stay low, but there’s little chance the House of Delegates will be able to reach an acceptable agreement on how to keep them down. Virginian students do have a right to attend a college in their home state, but the schools do depend on out-of-state students to maintain their cost. Businesses do need to stay in the area to help the economy survive. Whoever wins the election needs to find a way to work with the other party to determine the best course of action to help Reston survive.

Purported Afghanistan Presidential Winner Hamid Karzai Believes He is Indeed the Real Winner Admist Questions of Doubt

Who Is the Rightful Winner in Afghanistan’s Presidential Election?
Purported Winner Hamid Karzai Believes He Was Indeed Elected, Doubts U.N. Will Officially Challenge Results

Written by: Karen Benardello

Hope to bring the election crisis in Afghanistan to an end faded on October 17 when President Hamid Karzai defied international encouraging to accept fraud rulings. Combined with the fact that three more American service members have reportedly been killed by bombings, and the U.S.’s international allies have been looking for a way out of Afghanistan’s political impasse, the Afghan government’s legitimacy and the future of the U.S.-led military mission in the country are being questioned.

Amid these circumstances, and the belief that the U.N. has conducted an investigation into allegations of widespread fraud in the August 20 election, as preliminary figures showed Karzai won with more than 54 percent of the vote, Karzai could face a funoff with his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah. However, the U.N. panel must invalidate enough ballots to push Karzai’s total below 50 percent before a runoff can take place.

Karzai’s campaign staff believes that he will be able to remain in office, as they doubt the total will go below 50 percent. The president himself has refused to publicly comment on the matter, but it’s believed that he may challenge the U.N. panel if he doesn’t like its results, which would delay the runoff, and the declaration of the winner.

When fraud charges arise in Afghanistan, the U.N.-dominated Electoral Complaints Commission makes the final decisions on the manner. However, the president’s followers on the separate Independent Election Commission have argued that the partial recount is beyond the normal complaint process and that the U.N.-backed panel does not have the final say.

In order for the country to avoid political turmoil until spring, the second round of ballots needs to be held before winter begins in Afghanistan, which is typically in mid-November. After that, heavy snows fall in the mountain passes, and the Taliban can gain strength. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have all rightfully showed their concern on this manner, and have spoken to both Karzai and Abdullah in recent days to express their worries over the impasse.

If both Karzai and Abdullah are willing to work together, and it’s constitutional, the two should come to a power-sharing deal to avoid a potentially divisive and costly second vote, in an effort to avoid turmoil. But Mohin Murstal, a member of parliament and a Karzai supporter, said that “Karzai has agreed that after the announcement of the results, he will give the opportunity for all political personalities to be involved in government — but not before.” The president’s campaign spokesman, Waheed Omar, added that Karzai is “not going to compromise the results of the elections into any sort of political deal.”

Will New NASA Technology Help the Military Detect Disease-Causing Bacteria?

Will New NASA Technology Be Able to Help Military Detect Disease-Causing Bacteria?
New Microscope-Based Technology Quickly Detects Microbial Life on Spacecraft, Has Potential to Check for Decontamination of Pathogens After A Biological Attack

November 2009 Space Article-National Scene Magazine

Written by: Karen Benardello

A technology intended to quickly determine if there’s any presence of microbial life on spacecraft has been developed by Adrian Ponce, a chemist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. This method is also garnering attention, as it may also help the military test for disease-causing bacteria.

The new microscope-based method was devised by Ponce, who is also the deputy manager for JPL’s planetary science section, in an effort to quickly establish in a matter of minutes how clean a spacecraft is. Ponce was following to NASA’s practice of ensuring that spacecraft don’t hold bacteria or other micro biotic life forms from Earth that can could contaminate other planets or moons and distort scientific research.

One important indicator for cleanliness is microbes, which are bacterial endospores that can withstand extreme temperatures, ultraviolet rays and chemical treatments, Ponce said. “Bacterial endospores are the toughest form of life on Earth. Therefore, if one can show that all spores are killed, then less-resistant, disease-causing organisms will also be dead.”

NASA searches for microbial life by looking for dipicolinic acid-a major component of endospores and evidence of endospore growth. Scientists apply terbium, a chemical element used to generate the color green on television screens, to a dime-sized area on the spacecraft, and that area is then illuminated under an ultraviolet lamp. The scientists then look through a microscope to see if live endospores are present, and if there are, they will be seen as bright green spots.

The technology is so groundbreaking that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has rightfully expressed its interest in it. The federal agency is currently working on a portable instrument based on Ponce’s research that could quickly check for decontamination of pathogens after a biological attack, which can potentially save lives.

Ponce is working with the Department of Homeland Security and Advance Space Monitor to develop the instrument, which they plan to have ready for use by 2011. Hopefully the government will continue to fund the project so that NASA can continue to test for disease-causing bacteria.

While some people may not understand why the government is spending money to help keep spacecraft so clean, if the cleaning method can be applied to both living and public places, the time and cost will be worth it. With nuclear and biological threats a common concern, the government should be working to determine how to detect them before they materialize.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"The Final Destination" review

"The Final Destination" movie review

Written by: Karen Benardello

Since the original "Final Destination" was released 2000 (and the next installments were released every three years after), the series distinguished itself as being unique during an era of sub-pair remakes of slasher horror classics from the 1970s and ‘80s. The premise of the thriller series is that the main character has premonitions on how his or her friends and the strangers around them will die shortly thereafter in a disaster. Those saved will try to cheat death, but will begin dying in freak accidents soon after anyway in the same order they were meant to die in the original accident. However, fans of the series should have predicted that The Final Destination, the fourth and newest addition that was released on August 28 by New Line Cinema, killed any originality left in the saga.

What made "The Final Destination" disappointing is that it didn’t live up to the high expectations set upon it before it was released. With the success of the original trilogy, New Line hoped to have one of the last great movies of summer 2009 during a season of action blockbusters. It was also released in 3D in some theaters, pleasing fans who wanted to see the third film in the technology, which was originally planned, but was scrapped as it proved to be too expensive at the time.

The original trilogy grossed approximately $215 million (about three times the combined budget), and featured memorable performances from such actors as Devon Saw, Kerr Smith, Ali Larter, Seann William Scott, A.J. Cook and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. While having promotions isn’t realistic, the series also struck a cord with its teen and 20-something audience, as everyone gets a thrill of cheating death.

The newest film focuses on a premonition Nick O’Bannon (played by Bobby Campo from Legally Blondes) has of a multiple-car pile-up and explosion while watching a race at McKinley Speedway with his friends Hunt Wynorski (Nick Zano, TV’s What I Like About You), Janet Cunningham (Haley Webb, TV’s Close to Home) and his girlfriend, Lori Milligan (Shantel VanSanten, TV’s One Tree Hill). After warning the other spectators of section 180, they run to the exit in panic, as the car explosions occurred exactly the Nick saw them.

After the memorial service at the raceway for those who died during the pile-up, Nick began having visions and getting the feeling that the survivors were going to die in the order he saw them die in his premonition. While Hunt and Janet don’t believe Nick and Lori at first when they warn them of their impending deaths, the rest of the survivors try to cheat death.

Craig Perry, one of the producers of the latest installment, stated that this movie will be most likely the last in the series, as there aren’t any current plans to go ahead with a fifth film. He said that he personally didn’t want to continue with a “dying” franchise, as it’s difficult to come up with a fresh spin for a series that relies on the same premise for each sequel.

If "The Final Destination" is indeed the final movie in the series, it was disappointing in the fact that the characters weren’t able to break the series curse and figure out how to cheat death once and for all. The characters weren’t given a final resolution on how to beat death’s plan.

This new installment in the series also just seemed to be a rehashing of the car theme from the second movie, which focused on Kimberly Corman (played by Cook) and her premonition of a massive pile-up on the highway she is traveling on with her friends. This may in part be due to the fact that writer Eric Bress and director David R. Ellis both returned to "The Final Destination," after working on Final Destination 2 six years ago. If Perry wanted a fresh spin for the fourth film, a new writer and director should have been brought in.

"The Final Destination" also didn’t seem to work as well as its predecessors because its plotline wasn’t as coherent or constructive. The filmmakers seemed like they just wanted to end the series with as much gore as possible, with the number of death scenes ranking in at 11, more than the first three movies. The Final Destination just seemed to show each death scene in succession, without showing any emotional connection between the characters.

But one good aspect of the movie was its subliminal connections to the first three movies. Some examples include the film’s opening titles recreating death scenes from all three of the previous movies. Also, when Nick is driving, he passes a sign that causes him to have another premonition. The sign is clearly marked Clear Rivers Water, and Clear Rivers is the name of Larter’s character in the first two movies. The race track is named McKinley Speedway, which was the name of the town, high school and character Ian McKinley in the third film. The only disappointing part was the fate of Winstead’s character Wendy Christensen, her sister Julie, and their friend Kevin Fischer, portrayed by Ryan Merriman, was left ambiguous, whereas the fate of the main characters from the second movie was revealed in the third.

While "The Final Destination" was number one at the box office during its first two weeks of its theatrical run and has so far grossed over $97 million domestically so far against a $40 budget, only true fans of the "Final Destination" series, and those who like seeing movies in 3D on the big screen, will enjoy this latest entry of the series.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

HIV Vaccine Shows Early Signs of Success

Vaccine to Prevent HIV Show Early Signs of Success

Written by: Karen Benardello

Scientists have announced that a vaccine in its early stages has shown signs of potentially being able to prevent the virus, and government leaders have taken part in the effort to determine how to improve it. While it will most likely take years for the vaccine to become widely available if the positive results keep up, both the World Health Organization and the U.N. agency UNAIDS said the announcement has instilled new hope in the science community.

The study tried for the first time ever to prevent HIV the same way they treat it-by using a combination of two different vaccines. During the study, the scientists used the prime-boost approach, meaning the first vaccine helps the immune system attack HIV, and the second one strengthens the response.

The vaccines included in the combination were ALVAC, which is produced by Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine division of French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis. ALVAC uses canarypox, a bird virus, to carry synthetic versions of three HIV genes into the body. The combination also includes AIDSVAX, which is now produced by Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases and contains a genetically engineered version of a protein on the virus’ surface.

The Thailand Ministry of Public Health worked with the U.S. Army to conduct the study. The Army has a history of working with the Thai government to develop and test vaccines and medicine to help treat both troops and the general public.

The study used strains most commonly found in Thailand, and scientists are still unsure if the vaccine will help prevent strains from the U.S., Africa and other parts of the world. Researchers in Bangkok announced on Wednesday that the combo cut the risk of becoming infected by more than 31 percent of the study’s 16,000 volunteers.

While the results are not stunning, “it’s the first evidence that we could have a safe and effective preventive vaccine,” said U.S. Army Col. Jerome Kim, a doctor who helped lead the study. Researchers, scientists and the U.S. Army will meet with donors in New York next week to discuss how to accelerate the benefits of the vaccine, Dr. Alan Bernstein, the executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, also said on the subject.

The scientists and government leaders hope the vaccine works at least somewhat, as 7,500 people worldwide are infected with HIV everyday. But as of now, the scientists still have a lot of work to do. They still have to determine how long the vaccine’s protection will last and whether booster shots will be needed.

Temporary Replacement Found for Ted Kennedy’s Senate Seat

Temporary Replacement Found for Ted Kennedy’s MA Senate Seat

Written by: Karen Benardello

Former Democratic Party chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. was named on Thursday to temporarily fill the Massachusetts senate seat left vacant by the late Edward Kennedy. While Gov. Deval Patrick acknowledged the choice was controversial, he felt it was more important not to be “one voice short” on the issues before Congress.

The Massachusetts Legislature set the way for the announcement when it approved a bill on Wednesday allowing the governor to make an interim appointment. Even though the legislation would not take effect immediately, Patrick signed an emergency letter to make the appointment right away.

However, the Massachusetts Republican Party did not agree with Patrick’s choice, and urged Secretary of State William F. Galvin to initially reject the governor’s request to make the legislation effective immediately. The party pointed to the fact that prior decisions by the Supreme Judicial Court showed the governor’s power applied only when a law is subject to a public referendum. The party also wanted Galvin to wait at least a week, so that they could seek an advisory opinion from the court.

But Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, and their son, Edward Jr., supported the decision, and even attended the announcement at the Massachusetts Statehouse. Kirk is a Kennedy family friend who served on Ted Kennedy’s staff for eight years early in his career. Kirk is also the chairman of the JFK Library Foundation, a Boston attorney and sits on the board of Hartford Financial Services, which sells life and property insurance.

Kirk will serve until a special election is held on January 19, during which voters will pick Kennedy’s permanent replacement. However, Kirk will not be a candidate in that election. He was picked partly because he poses no threat to the candidates competing in the special election, as he has never served in political office.

Kirk showed his gratitude of being picked by saying “He (Sen. Kennedy) often said that representing the people of Massachusetts in the Senate of the United States was the highest honor that he could possibly imagine, and it is certainly nothing that I imagined, but it will be my highest honor, as well.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Silent Journey" documentary review

NATIONAL SCENE MAGAZINE (, under "Entertainment" section) EXCLUSIVE:

"Silent Journey"

Written by: Karen Benardello

In an aspiring tribute to what parents of children with multiple disabilities go through, and the daily struggles these children face, Sandy Rochelle released her documentary Silent Journey on DVD. This touching movie chronicles the struggles her son David, who was born deaf and autistic, encountered during the 1970s and ‘80s, a time when doctors were even reluctant to diagnose, much less treat, the brain development disorder.

The movie primarily focuses on the obstacles David faced during his childhood, particularly in his education, after being born on June 1, 1972. Since Sandy and her husband Alan always wanted children, they were ecstatic when David was born on June 1, the day Marilyn Monroe, Andy Griffith, Pat Boone and Morgan Freeman were all born, as they felt that meant their son was destined to do great things. But the Rochelles knew something was wrong with David at an early age when he continuously wouldn’t respond to slamming doors, ringing phones and even ambulances.

After doctors confirmed the Rochelles fears that David was indeed deaf, Sandy felt it in her soul that he was also autistic. Viewers of Silent Journey, not just those who have disabled children, can feel Sandy’s disappointment when those doctors refused to acknowledge that he was also autistic, instead suggesting he had other illnesses, such as Central Nervous System Damage and minimal brain development, or that he was just emotionally disturbed or atypical.

But Sandy’s determination to get her son treatment really shone through, as she discussed the fact that she, Alan and David would travel with from Manhattan to Queens by subway twice a week so that he could attend the infant program at the Lexington School for the Deaf, the only educational program of its kind at the time. While the program seemed to work at first, the school administrator eventually unjustly suggested that Sandy and Alan’s marriage may have caused David’s emotional problems. He even told her to read Bruno Betteheim’s The Empty Fortress, Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self, which blamed mothers for autism.

But David stopped attending the program at the Lexington School after the administrator’s suggestion and the fact that it seemed to stop helping him. David stayed home for months as Sandy looked for another school for him. Unfortunately, autism schools didn’t want a deaf child, and deaf programs couldn’t accommodate autistic children. But after much persistence, and with the help of the state, Sandy admirably founded the Special Education Unit, or SEU, for children with multiple disabilities, at the Lexington School.

Silent Journey also effectively incorporates interviews with doctors and other people who knew David as he was growing up as a child. Dr. Thomas Colasuonno, who knew David at the Lexington School, said that he had great opportunities at the school, but unfortunately, without the right medical treatment, he had difficulty with the other children. But Prof. Gabriel Grayson, who first met David in the ‘80s, appreciates how far he’s come, and how well he interacts with others now.

This documentary is a great resource for anyone who wants to witness the potential children with multiple disabilities have, and the growth they go through when they overcome obstacles. In Silent Journey, Sandy also reaches out to families with children who have multiple disabilities, and it shouldn’t be missed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

CA Prosecutors Seeking Death Penalty for Mother Accused of Killing Girl, Putting Body in Suitcase

CA Prosecutors Seeking Death Penalty for Melissa Huckaby, Mother Accused of Killing Friend of Her Daughter, Putting Body in Suitcase

Written by: Karen Benardello

Prosecutors in California said during a hearing yesterday that they are seeking the death penalty for Melissa Huckaby, the 28-year-old former Sunday school teacher who is charged with kidnapping, raping and killing an 8-year-old girl whose body was found stuffed in a suitcase. The defendant showed no emotion as Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa told the court of his office’s intentions.

Huckaby pleaded not guilty to the charges during the hearing, which took place in the San Joaquin County Superior Court. She was indicted two months ago for killing Sandra Cantu, a friend of her daughter, as well as drugging two other people.

During the hearing, which Cantu’s family attended, Superior Court Judge Linda Lofthus denied Huckaby’s request for a new attorney. She also scheduled another hearing Sept. 25. Testa said he hopes the trial will happen sooner rather than later, because younger witnesses he may call to testify will have a harder time remembering specifics about what happened.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Where is the Water Underneath India Disappearing To? NASA Is Determined to Find Out

September ‘09 Space Article-National Scene Magazine

Where is the Water Underneath India Disappearing To?

NASA Is Determined to Find Out

Written by: Karen Benardello

Underneath the land of one of the most populated countries in the world, the water has been mysteriously disappearing, which has lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) hydrologists to try to help determine where the supply is going.

Matt Rodell, one such hydrologist, and his colleagues at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have been observing the country from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). They have determined the water is being pumped and consumed by the country’s citizens, primarily to irrigate cropland, at a faster rate than the aquifers can be replenished by natural processes.

Groundwater accumulates in aquifers and decline and rise again naturally each year. But its levels do not respond to changes in weather as rapidly as lakes, streams, and rivers do, so when they are pumped for irrigation, so it can take months or years to their original levels.

The northern states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, for example, have all seen groundwater depletion, due in part to staggering population growth, rapid economic development and water-hungry farms. Data provided by India’s Ministry of Water Resources stated the regional rate of depletion was unknown.

According to GRACE, groundwater levels have been declining by an average of one meter every three years (one foot per year), and more than 26 cubic miles of groundwater disappeared between 2002 and 2008. “We don’t know the absolute volume of water in the Northern Indian aquifers, but GRACE provides strong evidence that current rates of water extraction are not sustainable,” Rodell said.

The loss is particularly alarming because it occurred when there were no droughts. In fact, rainfall was slightly above normal recently. “The region has become dependent on irrigation to maximize agricultural productivity, so we could be looking at more than a water crisis,” Rodell also added.

”At its core, this dilemma is an age-old cycle of human need and activity-particularly the need for irrigation to produce food,” said Bridget Scanlon, a hydrologist at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas in Austin. “That cycle is now overwhelming fresh water reserves all over the world. Even one region’s water problem has implications beyond its borders.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August Space Article-National Scene Magazine

August Space Article-National Scene Magazine,

Will the New Orion Launch Abort System Be Safer than the Apollo System?

NASA Seems to Think So

Written by: Karen Benardello

The Orion launch abort system, the safest-ever astronaut escape system ever to be built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), will be installed on the agency’s newest spacecraft. This new system, which is a modernization of the infamous Apollo system, will be similar to the old system, as it will swiftly propel crews capsule away from their spacecraft in case of an emergency on the launch pad or during ascent to orbit.

However, Orion represents a departure from the tower launch abort system used during Apollo launches. The Orion’s designs are based on the technical principles established during the Apollo programs, but also include the latest technology to expand the spacecraft’s operational flexibility.

While some NASA engineers work on the Orion, others will investigate the Max Launch Abort System, or MLAS, an alternate launch abort concept. A primary objective of the MLAS test, which occurred in a simulated pad abort test on July 8 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Wallops Island, was to design, optimize and test spacecraft. This test, which was unpiloted, was performed by the NASA Engineering and Safety Center as of a potential alternate launch abort system.

MLAS has potential because NASA believes it has aerodynamic performance benefits, weight savings and can be relatively simple in some spacecraft applications. While MLAS could be used for future piloted spacecraft, if needed, it won’t replace the Orion abort system.

But the MLAS can help the Orion Project in several ways, because MLAS is the first attempt to acquire full-scale aero-acoustic data (which is the measurement of potentially harmful noise levels due to the capsule moving through the air at high speeds) from a faired capsule in flight. It also is the first to collect aerodynamic and orientation data.

NASA seems to really be interested in increasing the safety of its astronauts and space shuttles, as each of its centers participated in the agency-wide MLAS effort. Each center did its job by providing engineers, technicians, analysts, designers, mission assurance specialists and/or use of their test facilities. Hopefully, all of this research and testing will prevent another disaster like Apollo 13, the third manned mission to the moon by NASA in 1970. However, it was forced to be aborted after a mid-mission technical malfunction, and was made famous by the 1995 movie starring Tom Hanks.

Woman Accomplice to Ryan Jenkins Sought

"Woman Accomplice to Ryan Jenkins Now Sought by Canadian Police"

Written by: Karen Benardello

Now that the body of Ryan Jenkins has been found in a room at the Thunderbird Motel in Hope, British Columbia, Canadian authorities are still searching for the woman who checked in with the reality TV contestant. While authorities from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have “identified the woman who is now a person of interest in this investigation, she is not considered a risk to public safety,” Sgt. Duncan Pound said Monday, August 24.

Kevin Walker, the motel manager, told CTV that the woman was about 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 20 to 25 years old. She dropped Jenkins off at the motel on Friday, August 21 in a silver Chrysler PT Cruiser with Alberta tags. “She just came for that one day and had checked in and rented the room,” Allana Herrling, a motel employee, said. “I don’t know if he paid her to rent the room or if he knew her or not, but she had rented the room and she had left right away.”

Southern California police were interested in Jenkins, as the nude body of his wife, former swimsuit model Jasmine Fiore, was found Saturday, August 15 in a Dumpster behind an apartment complex in Buena Park, just outside Anaheim. Her teeth and fingers were removed, in what police believe was an apparent attempt to conceal her identity.

Fiore, who was identified through the serial numbers on her breast implants, is believed to have been strangled, according to a preliminary coroner’s. She was last seen alive the night before her body was discovered at a poker game in San Diego with her husband, who reported her missing on the day her body was found.

Jenkins, who appeared on the VH1 show “Megan Wants a Millionaire,” which has been canceled, as he reportedly reached the finals, and the as-of-yet un-aired season of “I Love Money 3,” was a suspect because he was charged in June with battery, for allegedly striking Fiore in the arm with his fist. He also pleaded guilty in Calgary, Alberta to assault two years ago in a separate case, and was sentenced to 15 months of probation, ordered to undergo counseling for domestic violence and sex addiction, and to stay away from the victim, according to court records.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My new MySpace page!

Check out my new MySpace page, dedicated to my writing. Here's the link:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

July Space Article-National Scene Magazine-"Can Black Holes Help Determine How Galaxies Are Formed?"

July Space Article-National Scene Magazine

July Space Article-National Scene Magazine

Can Black Holes Help Astronomers Determine How Galaxies Are Formed?

The American Astronomical Society Seems to Think So, With Discovery of M87’s Black Hole Being Bigger Than Previously Thought

Written by: Karen Benardello

The most massive black hole ever weighed has been discovered at the heart of the galaxy M87, which is 50 million light-years away from our galaxy the Milky Way, the American Astronomical Society announced at its June 8 meeting in Pasadena, CA. The black hole, now determined to weigh 6.4 billion times the mass of the sun, is two to three times bigger than previously thought.

This new discovery means that other black holes in other large galaxies could also be much heavier than current measurements suggest. Adjusting how other black holes are measured could help scientists better understand how galaxies form.

The finding “is important for how black holes relate to galaxies,” society member Jens Thomas of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics said. “If you change the mass of the black hole, you change how the black hole relates to the galaxy.”

This relationship could impact astronomers’ current theories of how galaxies grow and form.

The M87 galaxy is so important it’s believed to be one of the first galaxies to harbor a central black hole, which was discovered nearly three decades ago. Astronomers now also think that most large galaxies, including the Milky Way, have supermassive black holes at their centers.

Astronomers also believe that M87 is the best place to study black holes, as it has an active jet that shoots light out of the galaxy’s core. This light helps astronomers understand how black holes attract and consume matter.

Movie Review: Bohemia: The Life of a New York City Poet

Written by: Karen Benardello

Movie Review:

R Media Inc. Films in conjunction with AB Film Productions Present:

Bohemia: The Life of a New York City Poet

Move over Dead Poet’s Society; here comes the new great poetry movie. The new R. Media Inc. Film documentary Bohemia: The Life of a New York City Poet features interviews with, and the poems of, some of New York’s best undiscovered talents, ready to break free from the underground scene and into the mainstream.

Bohemia does an expert job of featuring artists young and old from different races and experiences. As Bob Holman, who founded the Bowery Poetry Club, a bar in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that provides a performance outlet for both established and upcoming artists, stated in the beginning of the movie, you never know what’s going to come out of the featured poets’ mouths. Considering Bohemia is focused on New York poets, this is expected, but director Richard Ramson also features poems that are not offensive to anyone, and really show what life is like in the Big Apple.

One featured artist, a young black man nicknamed “Blis” (whose album Alive is for sale at, said that artists need to release their tensions through art. If they don’t, their tension will come out in other, potentially violent, ways. Brigid Murnaghan, an older white woman, agreed, saying that people need poetry, and rightfully said that people feel free once they read what they’ve written out loud.

One of the most touching interviews and readings came from Sandy Rochelle, a mother of an autistic son who spoke about what it feels like to raise her child while always being ignored by other parents and children. She said that her and her son were “cast away from the chosen,” and in a heartbreaking moment, pondered how her son would survive once she’s gone.

Another sentimental reading and interview came from Paul Knopf, a jazz musician who served in World War II. His poem focused on death and the soldiers he encountered while fighting, which he said he dealt with by writing. Knopf spoke of one of his most personal and difficult times of when he was put in detox, his roommate would continuously escape, and how he dealt with the commotion.

The documentary paid a deserving tribute to Knopf, as his group, OutCat, was featured as the opening (“Charleston”) and closing (“Blues on a Wet Thursday”) theme songs. Knopf played the drums, Ron Miller was on bass and Walter Perkins on drums.

Bohemia: The Life of a New York City Poet showed that while the residents of the city that never sleeps are often depicted as tough-as-nails, the people in the poetry community really do come together, and are happy to take anyone interested in expressing themselves through words under their wing. This documentary is a must-see for anyone who wants to get started in New York’s poetry scene.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Will NASA’s Launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Tell Scientists About the Moon’s Environment?-July National Scene Magazine Space Article

July Space Article-National Scene Magazine

What Will NASA’s Launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Tell Scientists About the Moon’s Environment?

NASA, Who is Returning to the Moon with its First Lunar Launch in a Decade, Hopes to Embark on an Extraordinary Period of Discovery

Written by: Karen Benardello

NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) sent its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a robotic spacecraft, to the moon on June 18 to gather the most information about the lunar environment than any other previous mission to the moon. The spacecraft, known as the LRO, was placed in low polar orbit about 31 miles above the moon, and will embark on an unmanned one year primary mission.

LRO’s instruments will help scientists compile high resolution three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface. The mission will also survey the surface at spectral wavelengths, explore the moon’s deepest craters and provide scientists with an understanding of the effects of lunar radiation on humans.

“This is a very important day for NASA,” said Doug Cooke, an associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington, which designed and developed both the LRO mission, as it is also NASA’s first lunar launch to the moon in a decade. “We look forward to an extraordinary period of discovery at the moon and the information LRO will give us for future exploration missions.”

LRO’s camera will use high resolution imagery to help find landing sites for future explorers and characterize the moon’s topography and composition. The hydrogen concentrations at the moon’s poles will also be mapped in detail, pinpointing the locations of possible water ice. A miniaturized radar system will also test communication capabilities.

“Our job is to perform reconnaissance of the moon's surface using a suite of seven powerful instruments,” said Craig Tooley, the LRO project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “NASA will use the data LRO collects to design the vehicles and systems for returning humans to the moon and selecting the landing sites that will be their destinations.”

All LRO initial data sets will be sent to the Planetary Data System, a publicly accessible repository of planetary science information, within six months of its launch. “We learned much about the moon from the Apollo program, but now it is time to return to the moon for intensive study, and we will do just that with LRO,” said Richard Vondrak, the LRO project scientist at Goddard.

"Drag Me to Hell" Movie Review

Title: Drag Me To Hell

Directed by: Sam Raimi (Spider Man)

Starring: Justin Long (Serious Moonlight, Live Free or Die Hard ) and Alison Lohman (Beowulf)

Scores: Technical: 95, Story: 85, Acting: 80, Overall: 87

With all of the hype in the teen-aged horror community surrounding the Twilight series in recent months, it was easy to question how Ghost House Pictures’ new PG-13 release, Drag Me To Hell, would compare. Also being directed and written by Sam Raimi, famously remembered for the smash hit Spiderman trilogy starring Toby Maguire and the revolutionary ‘80s Evil Dead series, and veering away from the slasher sub-genre that has always dominated the box office, Drag Me To Hell had high expectations to fill in order to be remembered as its own film.

The movie focuses on bank loan officer Christine Brown’s (played by Alison Lohman of White Oleander and Flicka) determination to break free from her childhood of being raised on a farm and making it in LA. She tries to impress her boss, Mr. Jacks (played by David Paymer), and beat out her new co-worker Stu for the assistant manager position. To prove that she can make tough decisions, Christine, who goes against her better judgment, denies a third extension on Sylvia Ganush’s mortgage.

Ganush, an elderly gypsy, gets down on her knees to beg Christine for another extension, and feels she is shamed when Christine refuses and instead calls for the bank’s security. That night, Ganush attacks Christine in her car after she leaves work, removes a button from her jacket and uses it to place a curse on her. Later, when Christine’s boyfriend Clay Dalton (played by Justin Long of He’s Just Not That Into You), starts to take her home when they pass a fortune teller’s store. Christine insists they go in, and the teller tells her that she has a dark spirit upon her. The next day, the teller also tells her that she will be tormented for three days before a powerful demon drags her to hell to burn for eternity.

While Drag Me To Hell, like most horror movies, isn’t totally realistic, it succeeded in showing the powerful effects religion and trying to beat a pre-determined fate has on people. Christine, a well-rounded woman destined to become successful in the beginning of the movie, tried multiple things later on to appease the demon in order to live. For example, she killed her cat; held a séance, during which she tried to sacrifice a goat; and tried to pass her fate to someone else by giving them her cursed coat button.

Raimi also lived up to his previous famed works by including outrageous and unpredictable special effects. For example, during the car attack scene, Christine staples Ganush’s eye shut, who then in turn bites her chin. There were great effects involving animals during the séance scene, including when the demon enters the goat and starts to attack Christine, and when one of the assistants regurgitates her cat.

With all of its gross-out and special effect scenes, Drag Me To Hell is reminiscent of Raimi’s earlier work, notably the Evil Dead series, and is a great way to introduce new fans, or reacquaint old fans, with the director. Rated PG-13 for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language, Drag Me To Hell will appease horror fans of all ages.

Written by: Karen Benardello

"Humpday" movie review

Title: Humpday

Directed by: Lynn Shelton (My Effortless Brilliance)

Actors: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard and Alycia Delmore.

Scores: Technical: 75, Story: 95, Acting: 95, Overall: 88

Forget what you think you know about “bromances” from major studio movies, such as Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Hangover, even though it was number one at the box office for two weeks. Humpday, the new comedy that was written, produced and directed by Lynn Shelton and is part of the independent mumblecore movement (movies that usually focus on personal relationships between twenty-somethings, have improvised scripts and feature mostly non-professional actors), was expertly made to show what old, partying college friends really do when they get back together.

The movie chronicles the reunion of Andrew (played by Joshua Leonard, who originally made his mark in the independent world when he played a fictionalized version of himself in the mega-successful The Blair Witch Project) and Ben (played by Mark Duplass, a favorite in the mumblecore movement), several years after college. Andrew, who is still a partier and has just returned from Mexico City, asks to stay with Ben and his wife Anna (played by Alycia Delmore) in their Seattle home.

But only after a day, Andrew convinces Ben to get back into their old ways by going to a sex-filled party at the home of his new open-minded friend, Monica (played by Shelton), who he met at a grocery store. Andrew’s new friends talk about making home-made, amateur pornography movies for the HUMP! annual film festival (a real event that began in Seattle in 2005, which showcases amateur sex movies and locally produced pornography).

After consuming a lot of alcohol, both Andrew and Ben decide it would be fun to showcase them, two straight men, having sex together. The next day, after their hangovers are gone, they try to prove that the other doesn’t know anything about their lifestyle, and they decide to go through with making the movie.

Both Leonard and Duplass were the real stars of the movie, as they were comfortable enough with their sexuality to act in a movie with this sort of topic. They didn’t seem to care what people would think of them for taking roles that would let them explore their curious sexual sides. Delmore deserves credit for her acting as well, showing that unlike big Hollywood movies, women don’t readily give into what their husbands want, and stand up for what they think is right.

Shelton also deserves some of the spotlight for not being afraid to make a movie about male sexuality. While most other writers and directors wouldn’t even want to touch the subject, Shelton dove right into it, focusing on how Andrew and Ben related to each other, and showing that the idea of making a porn movie together had relatively little effect on their friendship. It also seemed as though Shelton allowed the actors to stray from the script and ad-lib some lines, which helped the movie showcase how men really act around each other.

Due to these efforts, Shelton, who won the 2008 “Someone to Watch Award” at the Independent Spirit Awards for her movie My Effortless Brilliance, was deservingly honored again by having Humpday not only screened at Sundance, but by also winning the Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence. Humpday was even considered for selection to show at the Cannes Film Festival.

While Humpday was rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language and a scene of drug use and definitely isn’t appropriate for children, all men, and women who want to understand why guys act the way they do around each other, should definitely see this movie.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rapper T.I. Begins Prison Sentence

Rapper T.I. Arrives Late for Prison Sentence; Will be Treated Same as Everyone Else

Written by: Karen Benardello

Convicted rapper T.I., whose real name is Clifford J. Harris, Jr., began his one year and a day prison sentence at the Forrest City low-security prison in Arkansas on Tuesday, May 26. However, the singer, who showed up in a black coversion van with tinted windows to reporters and onlookers, arrived late. It was not immediately made clear if the tardiness would affect Harris' sentence.

Federal prison spokeswoman Traci Billingsley did say that the Atlanta rapper, whose inmate number is 59458019, won't receive special protection. The prison has double-bunked beds and a large fence exercise yard, which Harris would be using.

Harris was arrested after trying to buy unregistered machine guns and silencers from undercover federal agents in 2007, follwing his best friend's killing at a Cincinnati party in 2006. The rapper said the bullets that killed his friend were really meant for him.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Check out my new MySpace page, dedicated to my writing!

Check out my new MySpace page, dedicated to my writing! <--here's the link!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Brooke Shields Upset Mother Checked Out of Nursing Home by Reporter

Brooke Shields Upset Mother Checked Out of Nursing Home by Reporter

Written by: Karen Benardello

Brooke Shields is livid at, and considering taking legal action against, the New Jersey nursing home where her mother Teri is living after she was checked out by a tabloid journalist, PEOPLE Magazine is reporting.

The actress was taken by surprise on Thursday, May 14 when police notified and informed her that an unauthorized person checked her mother, who suffers from dementia, out of the home. Teri was found talking to the reporter, who Brooke believes works for The National Enquirer, at a restaurant near the assisted living center. Brooke believes the tabloid wanted to run a story about her, but the magazine denies the claim, saying the reporter was just having lunch with a friend.

“For her safety, she has temporarily been in a senior living facility, a very difficult decision for me,” the actress told PEOPLE about her mother. Brooke felt her mother was being taken advantage of, and called the reporter’s actions reprehensible and disgusting.

In response, The National Enquirer posted a story on its web site on the following day, saying there was nothing behind the story and the reporter was simply an old friend looking to catch up with Teri. In fact, the post even claims that she’s the one that asked the reporter to take her out to lunch and to run some errands. The tabloid also claims that the nursing home gave the reporter permission to take Teri out for the day, and there was no wrongdoing from any party.

Capt. Thomas Shine of the Old Tappan Police Dept. said the journalist was interviewed at the restaurant, and no charges have been filed as of yet. However, there is an ongoing investigation into the nursing home. “The part we’re investigating here is who allowed her to leave the facility,” Shine said. “It appears that there were some permissions that were given for Mrs. Shields (Teri) by the family, be they written, be they verbal-we’re investigating-to allow her visitation for a variety of different reasons.”

Brooke also told PEOPLE that she plans to file suits against not only the journalist, but the nursing home for their alleged lack of security measures as well. “I intend to take every lawful action against all who were involved or who authorized this despicable act,” she said.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Stern, Two Doctors Plead Not Guilty in Smith Case

Stern, Two Doctors Plead Not Guilty in Smith Case

Written by: Karen Benardello

Howard K. Stern and two doctors pleaded not guilty in a short hearing on Wednesday, May 13, to charges they conspired to provide thousands of prescription pills to Anna Nicole Smith before her death two years ago.

The former model and actress’ lawyer-turned-boyfriend, along with Drs. Khristine Eroshevich and Sandeep Kapoor, appeared in Superior Court to set the stage for a preliminary hearing.

The three defendants stood with their lawyers before Court Commissioner Kristi Lousteau, who had ordered that documents in the case be sealed. The three agreed to delay the matter until June 8 for setting of the preliminary hearing date. Steve Sadow, Stern’s lawyer, said he wanted the preliminary hearing to begin as soon as possible.

Stern and the two doctors declined to comment outside court, but Sadow was outspoken, exclaiming: “He did not commit a crime, period!” Sadow also said he had filed a demurrer, a legal document claiming that the law under which Stern is charged does not apply to him. “The statute deals with medical practitioners,” he said. “He is not a doctor.”

Kapoor’s lawyer, Ellyn Garafalo, also spoke, saying he continues to practice medicine and his patients have been supportive. “We have no doubt Dr. Kapoor will be exonerated,” she also said.

Prosecutors are alleging that Stern was the principal enabler in a conspiracy to provide Smith thousands of prescription pills. But the three each face six counts, including conspiracy, and up to five years, eight months in prison if convicted.

Craigslist Erotic Services Section Will be Replaced by Adult Services Section

Craigslist Announces That Erotic Services Section Will be Replaced by Adult Services Section

Written by: Karen Benardello

Classified ad giant Craigslist has announced that it will replace its "erotic services" section, which critics have call a front for prostituiton, with a staff-reviewed "adult services" category.

Craigslist chief executive Jim Buckmaster called the internal monitoring an acceptable compromise for users and law enforcement. The new ads would require an increase in posting price, up to $10 from $5. There is also going to be a reposting charge of $5.

However, some law enforcement officials have said the website hasn't lived up to an agreement it signed in November with state attorneys generals to better monitor ads and delete blatant prostitution ads. NY State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he had notified Craigslist about a prostitution-related case that implicated the site. "Rather than work with this office to prevent further abuses, in the middle of the night, Craigslist took unilateral action, which we suspect will prove to be half-backed," Cuomo said.

The announcement came after a lawsuit was filed in a Chicago court after an Illinois sheriff investigated the site. The change has also come after a Boston med student was charged with kiling a masseuse he allegedly met through an erotic ad on Craigslist. During the beginning of this month, a Hauppauge, New York woman was also charged with aggravated assault after allegedly osting a Craigslist "casual encounters" ad, in which she sent callers seeking sex to one of her neighbors.

Craigslist attorney Eric Brandfonbrener told a federal judge on Wednesday, May 13 that the charges would satisfy concerns in the lawsuit filed by the Illinois sheriff, Thomas Dart. "My expectation is that it will be moot," Brandfonbrener said. The sherrif's office said that it won't drop the suit, though, until it sees details and the plan is recorded in court.

Lindsay Lohan To Act Again

Lindsay Lohan To Act Again:
Excited to be Remembered for Starring Again in Movies

Written by: Karen Benardello

Lindsay Lohan has officially signed on to star in the independent fantasy comedy "The Other Side," with fellow actors Woody Harrelson, Giovanni Ribisi, Dave Matthews and Alanis Morissette.

The movie focuses on grad student Lohan, who must spend the summer working at a scientific institute on a remorte island, Variety has reported. Lohan's role in the movie was first reported by PEOPLE magazine.

This is the actress' first big-screen role since 2007's horror flop "I Know Who Killed Me." Lohan's last movie, "Labor Pains," went straight to cable television. Lately, Lohan has garnered attention solely for her on-again, off-again relationship with DJ Samantha Ronson, and the media has also focused on her dwindling bank account.

Director David Michaels told Variety that Lohan is looking forward to being noteworthy for her work once again. "Lindsay's very aware of people's perceptions of her. She's really committed to doing what she has to in order to change that."

Lohan's mother and manager, Dina, has also thrown her support behind the movie, saying "It's a wonderful cast and it's shooting on the East Coast, which we are excited about." "The Other Side" is scheduled to begin filming in October on an island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lindsay Lohan Tells Ellen Her Breakup with Samantha Ronson Came as a Surprise

Lindsay Lohan Tells Ellen Her Breakup with Samantha Ronson Came as a Surprise;
Now that She's Single Though, She Wants to Focus on Her Career

Written by: Karen Benardello

Lindsay Lohan is proclaiming that her breakup with DJ Samantha Ronson "came out of nowhere," but now that she's single, she is focusing on her career again.

"I had no idea what was going on," the actress told Ellen DeGeneres on her show. "I just hadn't seen her in, like, a week. She, like, disappeared."

Lohan's confession to Ellen was the first time the former Disney teen queen spoke publicly about her break-up with Ronson. Undoubtingly, she spoke to the talk show host, who had her own high-profile split with actress Anne Heche in 2000.

Though the actress kept quiet on the exact details of the split, she did adamantly claim that infidelity wasn't the cause. "I don't believe in cheating on someone. I watched my father do that to my mother my entire life."

When Ellen asked Lohan if she felt she had "lost her career" after the breakup, like she had with Heche, Lohan agreed. " forget who you are because you're more concerned about being with the other person," Lohan said, adding that she has a movie lined up to begin filming in October.

Lohan also told the talk show host that the news the Ronson family sought a restraining order against her came as a surprise, which also included being banned from a launch party for Charlotte Ronson's (Samantha's sister) new clothing line. "It came out of nowhere. I've supported Charlotte and I've never done anything for people to assume I'm dangerous."

But Lohan also hopes the split won't be permanent, as she said "I really care about Samantha."

Selma Haeyk Already Renews Her Vows

Selma Haeyk "Marries" Husband for the Second Time:
The Two Renew Their Vows in Venice

Written by: Karen Benardello

Selma Haeyk and her French magnate husband, Francois-Henri Pinault, have tied the knot again, for the second time. The Mexican-born actress's spokeswoman, Jillian Fowkes, said they renewed their vows in a ceremony at Venice's La Fenice opera house. The two orginally married in a small civil ceremony in Paris last Valentine's Day.

The second time around, the couple made it a weekend-long ceremony, starting witha cocktail party at Punta della Dogana, a museum owned by the groom's father, Francois. The ceremony's guests included actresses Penelope Crus, Ashley Judd and Charlize Theron; U2 frontman Bono; Vogue editor Anna Wintour; and former French president Jacques Chirac.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Demonstrators Demand Georgia's President Resign

Demonstrators Demand Georgia's President Resign:
Feel Mikhail Saakashvill Lost His Right to Lead Country After Last Year's War with Russia

Written by: Karen Benardello

Tens of thousands of demonstrators demanded that Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvill, resign, as they feel he lost the right to lead the country after last summer's humiliating war with Russia. The demonstration, which was peaceful, took place outside parliament in Tbilisi. Opposition leaders vowed that the demonstration wouldn't stop until the president steps down.

The demonstrators' most bitter criticism of Saakashvill was how he handled the August conflict,which resulted in the loss of Georgian teritory as separtists and their Russian allies took full control over two of the country's regions. The war badly strained Russia's relations with the west, particularly the U.S., which has been a strong supporter of Geogia.

The demonstration was times to coincide with the 20th anniversary of an anti-Soviet protest that was crushed by soilders, which resulted in 20 deaths. The 1989 protest galvanized Georgia's fight for independence.

Oprah Defends Girls School In Wake of Second Scandal

Oprah Defends Her South African Girls School In Wake of Second Scandal

Written by: Karen Benardello

Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey admitted in an interview with the newspaper The Weekend Argus that she has made several mistakes at her elite South African school for girls, but she also said that she remains proud of its success.

The recent expulsion of four girls and suspension of three others was the second scandal to hit the Leadership Academy for Girls, which opened in 2007, and is meant to groom students from deprived backgrounds. A dorm matron is also currently on trial for abuse and sexual assault.

"I have made several mistakes and one of them was being over-protective of the girls, which has made an impression that he school is isolating them from society," Winfrey told the newspaper.

The South African media reported that the seven girls were accused of trying to force other students into relationships, particularly sexual ones. Though Winfrey herself hasn't commented on the circumstances of their expulsion and suspension, she did say that "Those girls...said they knew they were breaking the rules."

The cases are bad publicity for both the school and Winfrey, who promised former South African President Nelson Mandela to give poor girls a quality education and prepare them for leadership posiions. But "The majority of girls are thriving, really fulling the dream and vision I had," Winfrey is insisting. "They are really exceeding any expectaions I had for them."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Temple University Health System Hurting Itself

May 2009 National Article, National Scene Magazine

Temple University Health System Hurting Itself:

Public Outcry Over Proposed Closing of Northeastern Hospital in Port Richmond, PA

Written by: Karen Benardello

The staff and patients of Northeastern Hospital in Port Richmond, Pennsylvania received good news on Thursday, April 9 when officials of the Temple University Health System, which operates the hospital, agreed to delay their plan to convert it into an outpatient-care facility by July 1. The delay, which will last for 30 days, will give local elected leaders a chance to analyze Temple’s decision to close the hospital and offer possible alternatives.

However, “They’re not guaranteeing anything,” said state Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, one of the four politicians who have criticized Temple for excluding leaders and the public from the decision-making process. “They’re holding off…so we can explore all the issues we should have been exploring months ago, when they weren’t talking to anybody,” he also said.

Temple announced that Northeastern couldn’t continue to operate as an inpatient hospital on March 23, because it was losing considerable amounts of money: $6.6 million in the 2008 fiscal year, which is projected to rise to $15 million during this fiscal year. As an outpatient facility, Northeastern Hospital would cut down on expenses by just providing prenatal care, lab work and radiology services.

If the change goes through, more than 800 jobs will be lost. But some, including Jerry Silberman, the local leader of the union that represents the hospital’s nurses, are trying to stay optimistic of the news of the delay. “But Temple’s style of negotiating is to not negotiate, so we’ll see how this goes,” Silberman said.

There has also been public outcry over the belief that Temple values their profits over patients, and it will close the hospital even though some, including Taylor, have described it as a lifeline for the residents of Port Richmond, Fishtown, Kensington and Bridesburg. In response, John Buckley, Northeastern’s chief executive, told the Daily News that the hospital was threatening to jeopardize the remainder of Temple’s health system, as more than 53 percent of its patients use Medicaid, which only compensates the hospital for 75 percent of the cost to treat patients.

Buckley also told the newspaper that many of the estimated 48,000 people who visit Northeastern’s emergency room every year are there for primary care. He also stated that the hospital needs about $100 million of upgrades and renovations, and the hospital has also had a difficult time recruiting physicians and specialists.

At several community meetings, Taylor and Silberman suggested several actions the public can take to show Temple that they believe closing Northeastern is a mistake. While Taylor threatened to cut off more than $150 million in funding Temple receives from the state, Silberman suggested that residents and hospital workers turn to the courts to file a restraining order against Temple to halt their transition plans.

While many businesses need to be cutting down on their expenses during this current recession, hospital and health care should not be one of them. While people can do without such luxuries as traveling and fancy cars until the economy turns around, everyone is entitled to, and should receive, medical treatment all of the time. The officials of the Temple University Health System should remember that such an action is inhumane, and should reconsider their decision to close Northeastern Hospital.

Is Afghanistan’s President Finally Listening to Western Leaders?

May 2009 International Article, National Scene Magazine

Is Afghanistan’s President Finally Listening to Western Leaders?

After Urging of Foreign Leaders, International Criticism, Afghan President Hamid Karzai Reviewing Law that Makes it Legal for Husbands to Rape Wives

Written by: Karen Benardello

After receiving international criticism over the new ruling that many believe makes it legal for husbands to rape their wives, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said during a news conference on Saturday, April 4, that the law will be examined and will be sent to the country’s Justice Ministry for review. If the parliament finds that it violates Afghanistan’s constitution or Shariah law, “measures will be taken,” Karzai said.

Karzai signed the law into effect last month in an effort to regulate the Shiite community, which makes up 10-to-20 percent of the country’s 30 million people. Many people and organizations, including the United Nations Development Fund for Women, are outraged over the law, as Article 132 legislates the frequency of sexual relations between Shiite husbands and wives. The article directly says “the husband has a right to sex every fourth night unless the wife is ill.”

Many western countries have urged Karzai to review the law, especially after he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about it. But during the news conference, Karzai said he studied the law earlier in the day and didn’t see any problems with it. Instead, he complained that the Western media had mistranslated it, and instead focused on an article that restrict Shiite women’s rights to leave their homes.

Karzai said he also feels that the law should be reviewed by Afghan scholars and religious leaders. “I ordered the justice minister to review the law, and if there is anything that would contravene the country’s constitution or Shariah law or the freedom our constitution gives to Afghan women, without any doubt there will be changes in it, and again it will be sent to the parliament of Afghanistan,” Karzai said.

If this law stays intact, women’s rights will have taken a step back. Afghanistan seemed to have taken a step in the right direction after the Taliban government, which banned women from appearing in public without a body-covering burqa and a male escort from her family, fell in 2001. The passing of this law in the first place just shows what a major step-back the American government and troops have had in Afghanistan since invading the country after the September 11th attacks.

Have Our Neighbors to the North Finally Determined Our Northern Boundary in the Sky?

May 2009 National Scene Magazine Space Article:

Have Our Neighbors to the North Finally Determined Our Northern Boundary in the Sky?

Canadian Scientists Believe they Have Found Boundary Between Earth’s Atmosphere and Outer Space

Written by: Karen Benardello

Much debate over where exactly the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space lies has surfaced over recent years, but researchers at the University of Calgary in Canada have announced they finally know the answer. With the data they collected from the Supra-Thermal Ion Imager, scientists at the university confirmed that space begins 73 miles above Earth’s surface.

During the new study, which is detailed in the April 7th edition of the Journal of Geophysical Research, the Ion Imager detected the boundary by tracking the winds of Earth’s atmosphere and charged particles in space. The discovery is important because the ability to gather in the area is difficult, since it’s too high for balloons and too low for satellites.

The data also “allows us to calculate energy flows into the Earth’s atmosphere that ultimately may be able to help us understand the interaction between space and our environment,” David Knudsen, a project scientist at the university, said. “That could mean a greater understanding of the link between sunspots and the warming and cooling of the Earth’s climate as well as how space weather impacts satellites, communications, navigation, and power systems.”

However, this announcement has not been made official yet, as there are many conflicting opinions over where outer space exactly starts. While some astronauts say space begins 50 miles above Earth’s surface, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), which sets aeronautical standards and is the world governing body for aeronautics and astronautics world records, recognizes scientist Theodore von Kármán’s calculation of 62 miles.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said the U.S. government doesn’t even have a set boundary standard because it feels it would complicate the issue of overflight rights of satellites and other orbiting bodies. But NASA unofficially has set the 76 mile-mile mark as their re-entry altitude because that’s where shuttles switch from steering with thrusters to maneuvering with air surfaces.

While this discovery doesn’t directly affect the lives of many people, it is helpful for astronauts and scientists. Knowing exactly where the Earth’s atmosphere ends and where outer space begins can help them determine how to continue to sustain and protect human, animal and plant life.

Suspect in Shawn Johnson Case Told Officer of Plan to Meet Her

Suspect in Shawn Johnson Case Told Alabama Officer of Plan to Meet Her During Traffic Stop:
Officer Let Him Continue to California Anyway

Written by: Karen Benardello

The man who authorities are saying tried to break onto the hit ABC series "Dancing with the Stars" to meet contestant Shawn Johnson has admitted his plan was "a little bit crazy."

The man, 34-year-old Robert O'Ryan, was pulled over at 1:30 am on March 19 on Interstate 10 in Loxley, a small town east of Mobile, Ala., for driving erratically. The half-hour stop only resulted in O'Ryan receiving a ticket for not having insurance and driving with an expired license plate.

O'Ryan told the officier of his plan to meet and propose to Johnson, who he said he only spoke to in his dreams. The officer, a 27-year police veteran, decided to let him continue with his trip to the set, and didn't see a need to search the car. The Loxley police department are stating that the officer, who didn't recognize the gymnast's name, had no way of knowing O'Ryan's intent.

O'Ryan did make it to Los Angeles, and was arrested after a shotgun and handgun, which were both loaded, duct tape and love letters to Johnson were found in his car. He is still in police custody. According to the Associated Press (AP), the Johnson family obtained a three-year restraining order against him, as she feared for her life.

Charlie Sheen's Son Max Doing Fine

Actor Charlie Sheen's Son Max Doing Fine:
Hospitalized Because of Low Weight, Not Heart Condition, As Previously Reported

Written by: Karen Benardello

Actor Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller's twin son Max did remain in the hosptial for several weeks after his March 14 birth, Sheens' rep, Stan Rosenfield, told, but not for the reason previously reported.

"Charlie and Brooke's infant son remains in the hospital, not because of a heart condition as reported, but because he has not gained the weight necessary to leave the hospital," Rosenfield said. "Max is expected to reach the weight requirement shortly and will join his brother Bob at home. The Sheens...assured everyone that both Bob and Max are fine."

Sheen told Us that the weight issues is very common among infants who were born premature, like his twin sons. Max and Bob are the first children for the couple, but the "Two and a Half Men" star has two daughters, Sam, 4, and Lola, 3, with ex-wife Denise Richards, and 24-year-old daughter Cassandra from another marriage.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' Conviction Overturned, Prosecutors Now Facing Charges

Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' Conviction Overturned, Prosecutors Now Facing Charges

Written by: Karen Benardello

Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens obtained a legal victory when his corruption conviction was dismissed and it was announced his prosecutors are now facing criminal investigations themselves.

The prosecutors weren't in court when Stevens' verdict was overturned, but U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said during his 25-year career, he has never seen like the mishandling and misconduct that took place during this case. The judge then had the unusual task of appointing a new prosecutor to investigate Stevens' prosecutors.

Washington attorney Henry Schuelke was appointed to investigate possible contempt and obstruction by the Justice Department team during Stevens' case, during which he was convicted of accepting thousands of dollars in undisclosed gifts. After the verdict was reached, an FBI informant accused the prosecution of misconduct. The team was replaced, and the new team acknowledged that key evidence was withheld.

No Restraining Order Against Lohan

Lohan Does Not Have to Stay Away from Girlfriend:
Ronson Decides Not to Go Ahead with Restraining Order

Written by: Karen Benardello

After celebrity DJ Samantha Ronson broke up with Lindsay Lohan, PEOPLE Magazine reported that the Ronson family inquired about obtaining a restraining order on Monday, April 6 at the Beverly Hills Police Department, against an unidentified person.

The magazine originally speculated that Lohan was the person, after Ronson and her family stopped the actress from entering the "I Heart Ronson" party at Bar Marmont in Hollywood (the party was celebrating the launch of Ronson's sister's clothing line).

But Ronson's attorney, David Bass, later told PEOPLE that she decided against the restraining order, as there is "no basis for one." The DJ wasn't even with her family at the time of the request, as she was in Las Vegas, working at Prive.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fans of the New Movie "A Haunting in Connecticut" Visiting Real-Life House that Inspired the Film

Fans of the New Movie "A Haunting in Connecticut" Curious of Real-Life House:
Like Fans of "The Amityville Horror" Series, Fans Visiting Home that Inspired the New Movie, Stressing Current Owners

Written by: Karen Benardello

The new horror film "A Haunting in Connecticut," which is based on an alleged true story, has already spawned curious fans, reminiscent of those of "The Amityville Horror." The alleged haunting has driven droves of people to gawk at the former funeral parlor home in Southington, central Connecticut, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting.

Susan Trotta-Smith, who bought the home 10 years ago with her husband, said "It's just been really, really stressful. It's been a total change in a very quiet neighborhood to looking out the window and seeing cars stopping all the time." The family has said they have never seen anything unusual in the house and does not believe the property is haunted.

The family has removed the number from the house and has posted "No Trespassing" signs on the property. Trotta-Smith says that most people are respectful by staying in their cars on the street.

The movie stars Virginia Madsen, and tells the story of the Snedeker family's reported experiences in the house during the 1980's. They claim their son would hear strange noises in his basement bedroom, which once held coffin displays and was near the old embalming room. He also claimed he would see shadows on the wall of people who weren't there.

The Snedekers brought in Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-described paranormal researchers, who originally became famous for documenting the Amityville house hauntings. Lorraine said she felt an evil presence in the Southington home and experienced a haunting herself when she spent a night there, but the house was "cleared of its evil presence" after a seance in 1988.

This case was also the inspiration for the 2005 pilot episode of the documentary series "A Haunting" on the Discovery Channel.

New Route of Macy's Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade Uncertain

New Route of Macy's Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade Uncertain:
If Broadway Becomes a Pedestrian-Only Zone Around Times and Herald Squares, Parade Will Have to Seek Different Route, Affect Area Businesses

Written by: Karen Benardello

New York City is already trying to figure out what alternative route the balloons and floats can use during this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to make Broadway a pedestrian-only zone around Times Square and Herald Square this spring.

The typical 2.5-mile route starts at Central Park West and West 77th Street, and ends at Herald Square, in front of Macy's. But since Bloomberg wants to make the city greener, safer and less congested, the Times Square Alliance says portions of this year's parade may have to be moved north of Times Square, which would keep it close to Broadway.

If the parade instead moves to the Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave.), as Crain's New York Business has reported, it would be the first time in the parade's 84-year history that it would completely bypass Times Square. Doing so would hurt businesses along the traditional route, as the parade is one of the most profitable events of the year for these businesses.

Officials Look to Reopen Anna Nicole Smith's Death Case

FL and CA Officials Look to Reopen Anna Nicole Smith's Fatal Overdose Case

Written by: Karen Benardello

South Florida prosecutors are once again looking at the evidence in the 2007 death of actress-model Anna Nicole Smith. Broward County prosecutors have met with Los Angeles authorities and the California Department of Justice, a spokesman for FL State Attorney Michael Satz said, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

This move comes after the March 13 indictment of Smith's former boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, and two doctors in CA, on charges of conspiring to illegally prescribe drugs to Smith. Broward County prosecutors want to see if any evidence from the indictments can help open a new case into Smith's death.

When Smith died on Feb. 8 in the Seminole Hard Rock hotel in FL, it was ruled as an accidental drug overdose. The Seminole Police Department, which handled the case because it happened on tribal land, said it had provided prosecutors and authorities with investigative materials, but had no plans to reopen the case itself.

"Project Runway" Has New Home

"Project Runway" Has New Home:
Lifetime Channel Gets the Hit Design Competition Show

Written by: Karen Benardello

After months of legal disputes, the hit fashion show "Project Runway" has finally found a home. The Associated Press (AP) has reported that the Lifetime network now legally has the right to air the design-competition show, which originally aired on the Bravo network.

The legal struggle involved NBC Universal, which owns Bravo, The Weinstein Co. and the Lifetime channel, and began last April. NBC had sued Weinstein after the company made a $150 million deal with Lifetime for the series. That lawsuit has already been settled.

NBC released a statement, saying Weinstein will pay them "for the right to move "Project Runway" to Lifetime. All parties are pleased with the outcome."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lindsay Lohan's Partying Ways Lead to Break-Up With Girlfriend Sam Ronson

Lindsay Lohan's Partying Ways Lead to Break-Up With DJ/Girlfriend Sam Ronson:
But Despite Pleas From Ronson, Break-up Leading Lohan to Old Partying Ways

Written by: Karen Benardello

Since Lindsay Lohan and DJ girlfriend Samantha Ronson decided last week to take a break so the actress can reportedly focus on herself, Ronson has allegedly reached out and asked Lohan to take care of herself.

While the actress' partying ways are what supossedly lead to the breakup, PEOPLE Magazine is reporting that Lohan, "despite appearances, is insecure and has relied on (Samantha) and their relationship to build her up. (Lindsay) barely sleeps, which explains a lot of her behavior. She's exhausted. She can't even sit down for a minute without pacing around the room. It's really sad."

OK! Magazine is also reporting that right after the split, Lohan went out at 2AM to party in the Hollywood hills, while Ronson was in San Francisco for a DJ gig.

Friday, April 3, 2009

U.S. Authorities Cracking Down on Mexican Drug Dealers

April National Scene Magazine National article

America Fighting Drug War: U.S. Authorities Cracking Down on Mexican Drug Dealers

Written by: Karen Benardello

In an effort to help Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa combat drug cartels, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the United States’ top military officer, visited Mexico to confer with leaders there to discuss the Merida Initiative. The three-year plan, which was signed last June, is aiming to send $1.4 billion USD to the U.S.-Mexican border for law-enforcement training, equipment and technical advice to strengthen Mexico’s judicial system.

The money and assistance is expected to help President Hinojosa stop drug lords from killing any more people, as more than 6,300 people have already died at their hands since January 2008. While the cartels don’t usually target civilians, hundreds have already died in the crossfire, and the U.S. doesn’t want to see anymore innocent people killed for drugs.

Not only does U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration want to stop the violence on both the U.S. and Mexican borders, especially in the border states of Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, the initiative is also expected to stop the Mexican drug cartels that control about 90 percent of the cocaine trade in America. The U.S. Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center says these drug cartels also control most of the marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin markets in America, with operations in 230 cities.

In the agency’s 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment, it states that Mexican drug-trafficking organizations, known as DTOs, control drug distribution in most U.S. cities, and are gaining strength in markets that they do not yet control, from inner cities to suburban and rural areas. It also concludes that Mexican DTOs represent the greatest organized crime threat to the U.S.

The cartels’ threats became more imminent in late February when the results of Operation Xcellerator, a nationwide sweep by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, were released by the Justice Department. More than 750 people were arrested, and 12,000 kilograms of cocaine, 1,200 pounds of methamphetamine, 1.3 million ecstasy pills and more than 160 weapons, nearly all attributed to Mexican-connected operations, were seized.

The Department of Homeland Security all these drugs came from small blocs around Mexico that are loyal to the cartels. One block is loyal to the Gulf cartel; another answers to the Sinaloa cartel, and another does business with the Tijuana cartel. While all of their violence worries U.S. authorities, they are most focused on the rivalry between the Gulf cartel leaders, known as Los Zetas, and the Los Negros, the Sinaloa cartel.

Many of their fights occur between Ciudad Juarez, near the point where Texas and New Mexico meet, and Nuevo Laredo, which is across the border from Laredo, Texas. U.S. authorities are worried that this is the heaviest launching pad for contraband entering the U.S., and almost everything is approved by either the Gulf or Sinaloa cartels. Authorities are having the most trouble cracking down on this area, as much of it is desert and rugged mountain terrain.

While the wars aboard are what many Americans are concerned about, President Obama should also aim to fight the drug war here at home. While the U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan need protection from terrorists, both American and Mexicans, particularly innocent and naïve teens, need protection from drugs.

Arrest Finally Made in Murder Case of Intern Chandra Levy

April '09 National Scene Magazine National Article

Proof That the Wheels in Washington Do Move Slowly: Arrest Finally Made in 2001 Murder Case of Intern Chandra Levy

Written by: Karen Benardello

A long-awaited break has been announced in the Chandra Levy murder case, nearly eight years after her death. Washington, D.C. police announced on Tuesday that they have issued an arrest warrant for the man they believe killed the intern.

Police hope to charge Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique with first-degree murder in Levy’s attack and slaying in a Washington park. While he is currently serving time in a federal prison in Adelanto, California for attacking two other women, he is expected to be brought back to the nation’s capital sometime within the next two months.

When Levy disappeared, she had just finished an internship with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. She remained in Washington, even though she was originally from Modesto, California. When last alive, Levy left her apartment to go running in the park. Her remains remained missing for nearly a year, until a man walking his dog found her skull and bones in the park.

The announcement is a welcome one, as the case has long stumped the city’s police department. The initial investigation received criticism for being compromised, as police missed leads and even searched the wrong part of the park for Levy’s body. When her remains were found, they were so decayed investigators couldn’t recover much evidence.

Authorities didn’t immediately focus in on Guandique; instead, they questioned Levy’s congressman, former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of California, whose political career was sabotaged due to the investigation. However, Condit, a popular Democrat for a dozen years in his district who was romantically linked to Levy, was never considered a suspect.

But police eventually were led to Guandique, based on interviews with at least two witnesses who claimed he told them he killed Levy. Washington police also conducted interviews with the man who found Levy’s remains, as well as other victims who were attacked in the park. Police were unable to arrest Guandique sooner because, according to U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor, there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, but the circumstantial evidence collected from over the years led investigators to him.

For example, one witness told police last month that Guandique said he and two male teenagers were in the Washington park smoking marijuana and cocaine when he saw Levy jogging. Reportedly, he told the teens that Levy “looked good” and that he was going to “get her.” The three then allegedly followed, grabbed and took her into the bushes. He then choked her to death so that no one would hear the struggle, according to the witness.

Even though Levy allegedly scratched Guandique during the struggle, he instructed his family to tell police that if they were ever questioned, just to say the scratches came from a fight with his girlfriend. Investigators did speak with Guandique immediately after Levy’s death in 2001 and 2002, and at one point, even gave him a polygraph test, which turned out to be inconclusive. They did also question his family and friends, but could not find any evidence linking him to the case.

However, even in light of this new information, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo, Guandique’s public defenders, urged the public not to “draw any conclusions based on speculation by the media and incomplete information.”

Levy’s parents, Bob and Susan, told the Associated Press though that this new development meant their young daughter, who was only 24 at the time of her death, can now finally rest in peace. “Thankfully the individual responsible for this most heinous and terrible crime will finally be held accountable for his actions and hopefully unable to hurt anyone else ever again,” they also said.

Saudi Arabia Losing Control Over International Public Image

April '09 National Scene Magazine International Article

Ultra-Conservative, Religious Saudi Arabia Losing Control Over International Public Image With Attempts to Control Women

Written by: Karen Benardello

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is facing new international criticism and outcry over its ultraconservative religious police and judiciary after a 75-year-old widow was sentenced on March 3 to 40 lashes and four months in jail for being in contact with two men who are not her close relatives.

Abdel Rahman al-Lahem, the lawyer for Khamisa Sawadi, the widow, told the Associated Press (AP) on March 9 that he would appeal the verdict, which also states that she will be deported after her sentence is finished. Sawadi, who has not yet started serving her jail time, is Syrian, but was living in the country because she was married to a Saudi.

Rahman al-Lahem would not provide any more details about the case, as Sawadi did not want to speak with the media. But the newspaper Al-Watan has stated that she met with two 24-year-old men last April as they were delivering five loaves of bread to her home in al-Chamil, a city north of Riyadh, the country’s capital.

Al-Watan identified one of the men as Fahd al-Anzi, a nephew of Sawadi’s late husband, and the other was his friend and business partner Hadiyan bin Zein. The two men were also arrested by the religious police, convicted and sentenced to lashes and prison.

The court decided to convict the three based on testimony from al-Anzi's father, who accused Sawadi of corruption. “Because she said she doesn’t have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed,” the court verdict read.

This conviction was based on the country’s strict interpretation of Islam. Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow men and women who are not immediate relatives to mingle. But Sawadi tried to overturn her conviction by telling the court that she considered al-Anzi to be her son because she breast-fed him when he was a baby. The religion recognizes a degree of maternal relation with breast-feeding, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers. But the court denied her claim, saying she didn’t provide evidence of this maternal relation.

Journalist Bandar al-Ammar, who works for Al-Watan, wrote in a recent article that he reported on Sawadi’s case “so everybody knows to what degree we have reached.” Her conviction is the latest act in a string of recent harsh acts by the Saudi government. Sawadi case came a few weeks after King Abdullah fired the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing owners of TV networks that broadcast “immoral content.” The move was seen as part of an effort to weaken the hard-line Sunni Muslim establishment.

Complaints from Saudis about the religious police and courts overstepping their broad mandate and interfering in their citizens’ lives don’t come unfounded. The country doesn’t allow women to drive, and prohibits its citizens from playing of music, dancing and movies that are considered to violate religious and moral values. While everyone is entitled to their own religious and moral views, women, or any other group for that manner, should be oppressed or banned from enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

Further Proof of Martian Life

April '09 National Scene Magazine Space article

Further Proof of Martian Life: Mars Recently Underwent Ice Age

Written by: Karen Benardello

A newly-released study has proven that Mars underwent an ice age as recently as 1.25 million years ago, during which water flowed across the surface towards the planet’s equator. This find means the planet could potentially support future life.

Since the start of the new millennium, scientists have found numerous geological features, such as lakebeds, that indicate this possibility. They have also found such water-bearing minerals as carbonates that show that water has reacted with the Martian dirt.

But whatever water is presently on the Martian surface is completely in ice form, because the planet is currently too cold for liquid water. The planet’s climate has continuously fluctuated between warmer and cooler periods, due to the planet wobbling on its axis during its 4 billion-year history and the changes in the amount of sunlight the surface receives.

The new study, which is profiled in the March issue of the journal Geology, used a gully (which are young surface features) system located in the large Promethei Terra region to prove that water flowed on Mars more recently than previously thought.

The specific gully system the scientists examined shows that water-borne sediments were carried down steep slopes of alcoves. The sediments were then deposited during four different time periods. This was determined by the fact that certain parts of the alcoves were filled with craters, while other parts were completely free of craters.

The scientists also determined that ice and snow deposits formed in the alcoves when Mars was tilted millions of years ago, as opposed to the water that is confined to the poles today. About half a million years ago, the planet’s tilt change and the ice began to melt.

With more scientists publishing reports which prove water is in fact present on our neighboring planet, it becomes increasingly more difficult to deny that other life forms are present. While people are certainly more concerned with the current state of the economy, they should also prepare to face the possibility of co-habiting with other beings.

My Newsday Insider movie review of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!

Read my Newsday Insider movie review of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!

(Yeah! Got it published on the Newsday website! lol ),0,5928708.htmlstory <-- here's the link!


Just when horror movie fans were hoping to see the last of the recent remakes of iconic classics, studio company Rogue Pictures released the latest rehasing of one of the scariest films to date-"The Last House on the Left." Unlike most of the other remakes, which often times can instead pass as sequels, this movie, which stars Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt and Sara Paxton, stays true to the original, while updating the storyline just enough from the 1970s to the present day to leave its audience wondering how safe seemingly innocent-looking strangers really are.

However, before "The Last House on the Left" hit theaters, its superstitious release date of Friday the 13th seemed to be its only advantage. Rogue Pictures, which is a subsidiary of Universal and primarily releases horror movies, including "The Return," "The Hitcher" and "The Strangers," hired Dennis Iliadis as the movie's director, even though he has only directed one movie before. Trying to break into mainstream movies, it was questionable whether Iliadis could positively distinguish this version of "The Last House on the Left" from other 1970s and '80s remakes, including "Friday the 13th," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Hills Have Eyes" (which, along with the original "The Last House on the Left," famed horror director Wes Craven directed). However, Iliadis did well bringing this updated version of "The Last House on the Left" to life, as it focuses on the Collingwood family's struggle with dealing with the death of son Ben.

Surviving child Mari travels to the family's vacation lake home in the middle of nowhere with her parents Emma and John for the summer, and on the first night, asks to go visit her friend Paige at the store she works at in town. While Emma is at first hesitant to let her drive into town alone, as Ben died in a car accident, John ultimately convinces her to let Mari go. While at the store, Paige and Mari meet fellow teen Justin, who convinces them to go back to his motel room to smoke marijuana with him.

Once there, Mari and Paige meet their untimely demise as Justin's father, uncle and friend come back after escaping from the police. Justin's father becomes upset he made the first page of the newspaper, and believing Mari and Paige will call the police, he takes them into the woods to kill them. Later in the night, Justin and his family unknowing take refugee from a rain storm at the Collingwood house, and when Mari's parents realize who their guests really are, they begin to torment and attack them.

While the remake slightly alters details from the original, the updated version of "The Last House on the Left" is still terrifying, especially when the Cullingwoods' fight their daughter's attackers. For example, the scene where John injects Justin's father with something to paralyze him from the waist down, puts his head in the microwave and turns it on shows to what lengths a father would go to protect his daughter. While the majority of the actors are unkowns, except for Potter, who starred in such movies as "Saw" and "Along Came A Spider," and Paxton, who starred in "Sydney White" and TV's "Summerland," their acting showed they put time and effort into researching and studying the minds of their characters. Even though anticipated movies often thrive on the big-name actors the studio hire to draw in money, the excitement over the original movie seemed to draw in fans, as it made an estimated $14,658,000 during its first weekend. Contrastingly, the 1972 original earned an estimated $3.1 million during its entire box office run, which, adjusting for 2009's inflation, would be approximately $16,468,225.

While "The Last House on the Left" remake is a must-see for avid horror fans, parents of young children shouldn't let them see it, as they might find it disturbing, since it contains some nudity, a rape scene, profanity and extreme violence and blood throughout. The only things adults will find disturbing is the fact that no one actually says the Collingwood house is the last house on the left, despite it being said in the trailers, and the fact that the house looks nothing like it does on the theatrical poster.