March 3, 2014

Cinderella's Castle.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Disney Cuts Off Boy Scouts

Won't support gay leader ban

Though the Boy Scouts of America voted last year to allow gay youths as members, it continues a ban on gay scout leaders. And Disney is not having it.

The Walt Disney Company announced Friday that it will pull funding to the BSA by 2015 because of a BSA policy that bans gay leaders, CNN reports.

Through Disney's VoluntEARS program, employees can volunteer for the charity of his or her choosing in exchange for a cash donation from Disney. The BSA is now off the list of eligible charities.

Disney's charitable giving guidelines state that a group becomes ineligible for receiving donations if they "discriminate in the provision of services unlawfully or in a manner inconsistent with Disney's policies on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, marital status, mental or physical ability, or sexual orientation."

Others, including pop star Carly Rae Jepson, have also protested the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policies.

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Everest climbers will have to carry some additional weight down from the mountain this spring.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Climbers to Stop Trashing Everest

Mandatory cleanup begins in April

Beginning this April, Nepalese officials are requiring climbers on Mount Everest to haul 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of garbage off the mountain in an effort to clean up decades of trash buildup. The new regulation does not include personal trash collection, turning future mountaineers into mandatory stewards of the alpine environment on Everest.

They don’t have to haul it far, though. An office for receiving the trash will be set up next to base camp in time for the new regulation to take effect. The plans also include toilets to help alleviate human waste problems on the mountain and soldiers to enforce law and order on the mountain. Climbers who do not adhere to the new rule will face legal action in the form of a fine or confiscation of their expedition deposit, worth $4,000. “Our earlier efforts have not been very effective. This time, if climbers don't bring back garbage, we will take legal action and penalize them,” explained tourism official Madhusudan Burlakoti.

Trash has been building up on the mountain for decades, including items such as oxygen cylinders, ropes, and beer cans—as well as human bodies, which remain frozen where they fell. Dawa Sherpa, expedition manager at Asian Trekking, reports, “The Eco Everest Expedition has collected some 15 tons of garbage, 600 kilograms of human waste, and six bodies since 2008.”

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Friday's slide (not pictured here) in Missoula, Montana, may have been traveling at speeds of 120 mph when it hit homes in town.     Photo: Anna Dudko/Thinkstock

Avalanche Hits Neighborhood

3 buried, 1 killed in Montana

A snowboarder triggered a destructive avalanche late Friday afternoon in Missoula, Montana, uprooting a home and leaving three buried in snow and debris. Mount Jumbo was reportedly primed for a slide after a hefty snow followed an unseasonably warm period. Triggered near the summit, the avalanche rifled through the Rattlesnake Valley neighborhood, burying an eight-year-old boy and two adults. All three were rescued alive.

The young boy, Phoenix Coburn, was reportedly playing in the street with his sister when the avalanche struck at speeds well over 110 mph. After nearly an hour, Phoenix was found buried under several feet of snow between a fence and one of the homes. The boy was immediately taken to the hospital, where he remains in fair condition. Phoenix’s sister was also hit by the avalanche but was able to free herself.

More than an hour after the slide, 66-year-old Fred Allendorf, a retired professor from the University of Montana, was extracted from his destroyed home. It wasn’t until three hours after the avalanche that Allendorf’s wife, Michel Colville, was found and rescued from a small air pocket in the debris. Allendorf and Colville are in serious and critical condition, respectively, in nearby St. Patrick Hospital. 

Many attribute the successful rescue effort to the quick thinking of surrounding neighbors. After realizing what had happened, many of the skiers and snowboarders in the community immediately grabbed their shovels and probes and began digging and searching for survivors.

Officials interviewed and later released a group of snowboarders above the slide. Authorities have yet to confirm the cause of the avalanche, but one snowboarder was apparently stuck in the slide and was able to escape before it gathered speed.

UPDATE: Michel Colville died Monday morning due to injuries sustained during the avalanche.

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NASA tweeted images like this one with the hashtag #RealGravity to spin the film's success.     Photo: NASA

NASA Defies "Gravity"

Agency wants to spin winning film

Last night, Gravity, the harrowing sci-fi blockbuster about a routine space mission gone horribly awry, picked up seven trophies at the Academy Awards. The film's striking realism—and its still-growing $270 million in revenue—has been hailed as a victory for science and space exploration. Too bad Gravity has a high-profile critic: NASA.

Gravity's success presents a quandary for NASA: Embrace a film that, despite its realistic sheen, has glaring scientific inaccuracies, or risk alienating what could be a new generation of space enthusiasts with criticism and correction?

As Wired reports, the agency seems to have taken a three-step approach: "acknowledge, support, and deflect." Although the film didn't paint space exploration in a particularly flattering light—kids probably don't dream of shooting into space only to float around in spacesuits with nothing to grab on to—NASA successfully harnessed the film's spectacular majesty to come out ahead.

In a truly savvy publicity move, NASA's Twitter feed lit up as the Oscars telecast began, tweeting 31 times with a blend of admiration for the movie and gentle promotion of real-life space travel, using the hashtag #RealGravity.

After the awards wrapped up, NASA—and some special guests—offered the film their support:

The best part of NASA's Twitter offensive were its photos. Building off Alfonso Cuaron's masterful (and now award-winning) cinematography, the agency tweeted impressive shots from space that also happen to be completely real.

Astronauts in 20 years might not say Gravity inspired their careers, but they might thank #RealGravity. If this all sounds familiar, recall that astrophysicist and de facto NASA spokesman Neil deGrasse Tyson took to Twitter upon the film's release for more pointed criticism:

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A python similar to this one ate a crocodile after a five-hour battle on Sunday.     Photo: Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock

Snake Eats Crocodile

Epic battle goes to python

The Australian crocodile never had a chance.

During a five-hour battle in northern Queensland, a snake wrestled, constricted, and finally ate a crocodile on Sunday. The 10-foot-long serpent—thought to be an enormous water python—wrapped itself around the croc as the two fought in the water.

The snake then dragged its prey to land and began to consume it—whole. The meal lasted only about 15 minutes.    

"It was amazing," Tiffany Corlis, a local author who saw the fight, told the BBC. "We saw the snake … roll the crocodile around to get a better grip and coil its body around the crocodile's legs to hold it tight. … After the crocodile had died, the snake uncoiled itself, came around to the front, and started to eat the crocodile, face first.” 

Some of the world’s most dangerous snakes live in Queensland, as do saltwater crocodiles. According to snake expert Bryan Fry, these face-offs between the two predators aren’t uncommon.

“Crocs are more dangerous to catch [than rodents], but easier to sneak up on,” he told the Brisbane Times. “Up in Kakadu, for example, they feed heavily on small rodents, but that’s not to say they won’t take the crocs as well.”  

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Demonstrators lie down along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House during a protest against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline on Sunday, March 2, 2014. The protestors say the pipeline would contribute to global warming.     Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Hundreds Cuffed at KXL Protest

White House demonstration draws fire

As Reuters reports, several hundred of the estimated 1,000 people protesting the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House on Sunday agreed to risk arrest by refusing the leave the sidewalk in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Organizers told the press that almost 400 people were arrested, citiing U.S. Park Police figures.

Protesters demonstrated opposition to the pipeline in different ways. Some waved signs that read, "There is no planet B," while chanting, "Hey, Obama, we don't want no pipeline drama." A black tarp was laid down to represent an oil spill. Others zip-tied themselves to White House fences.

"Today's protest represents a fringe minority of people against any use of fossil fuels," Matt Dempsey of Oil Sands Fact Check told reporter Emily Stephenson. "This extreme position is well outside the American mainstream. Even President Obama says we need an 'all of the above' approach to energy. As a result, today's protest does little but expose the extreme nature of these last remaining Keystone XL opponents."

Those who support the $5.4 billion pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries in the United States argue that Keystone would improve U.S. energy security and create thousands of temporary construction jobs.

The pipeline is in a public comment period with the U.S. Department of State until March 7, and anyone can voice their concerns on their website.

Read Outside's "The Economic Case Against Keystone XL"

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