January 31, 2014

    Photo: AP Photo

Zimbabwe's First Winter Olympian

Country's last snow was 30 years before his birth

Zimbabwe hasn't seen a flake of snow since 1960, but that won't stop native son Luke Steyn from being the country's first Winter Olympian.

According to an SI.com report, the 20-year-old will make history when he competes in Sochi's slalom and giant slalom races. Steyn took up skiing on family trips to Europe and honed his skills when he attended the University of Colorado.

"He has had a lot of people wondering how we can produce a world-class skier," says Kevin Atkinson, the head of the Zimbabwe Snow Sports Association. (Yes, even Zimbabwe has a snow sports association.) "He might not get a gold, but there's plenty of time."

Steyn will join athletes from Togo and Morocco in representing Africa at the Sochi Games. As we reported last week, a South African skier also qualified, but his government denied him the privilege of attending.

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Gladwell's latest book might offer lessons for eco-activists (illegally) fighting the system     Photo: Youtube.com

'Eco-Terrorist' Sentenced To Read Gladwell Book

Arsonist Rebecca Rubin should glean lesson

Radical environmental activist Rebecca Rubin has been sentenced to five years in prison for her involvement in several acts of arson, most notably the burning of Vail Colorado’s Twin Elks Lodge which inflicted millions of dollars in damage. After spending almost eight years on the lam living underground, Rubin gave herself up to the FBI last October. She then pleaded guilty to arson, attempted arson, and conspiracy to commit arson in connection with a group known as The Family.

On Monday, as part of the five-year sentence, Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ordered Rubin to read Malcolm Gladwell's 2013 book David and Goliath. The idea, said the judge, is that she might learn a thing or two about non-violent environmental advocacy while serving her sentence.

Gladwell hopes she will too. 

“I spend a lot of time in the book talking about the ways in which underdogs can fight the system,” says the bestselling author. “I give a number of examples of people who I feel fought the system in the right way.”  

As examples, Gladwell sites Martin Luther King Jr. and Baptist minister Wyatt Walker, who were able to take down the white establishment in Birmingham, Alabama, through trickery—not through violence. 

“They outwitted their opponents,” he says. “These are people who didn't have a lot of power, but chose to take on the establishment in effective and innovative ways that did not involve violence. I think that's probably what [the judge] was urging her [Rubin] to think about.”

When Rubin’s done doing time—and done reading—she will be on the hook for paying $13 million in damages. Perhaps the next book she'll be reading will be Donal Trump's How to Get Rich.

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A psychic manatee carefully ponders the future.     Photo: Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium

Animals Predict Super Bowl Winner

They can't all be wrong. Right?

When it comes to earthquakes and volcanoes, animals are always the first to know. But what about Super Bowls? Every year, casual sports fans and gambling addicts alike look to nature for the answer to the question, "Who's going to win the big game?"

Although their understanding of football may be questionable at best, creatures of all species are weighing in on this Sunday's contest between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. 

Presenting your Super Bowl XLVIII pundits!

Internet sensation Teddy Bear the Porcupine has declared his preference for the Seahawks and corn on the cob.

Kiano, a black rhino from Des Moines, Iowa, confidently rolled a large metal ball with the Seahawks' logo on it, effectively declaring them the winner.

Hugh and Buffet, manatees from Sarasota, Florida, were split in their decision, with Hugh picking the Seahawks and Buffet picking the Broncos. Gamblers would do well to note, however, that Buffet has the better record, having correctly picked the past six Super Bowls.

Another animal pair, komodo dragons named Murphy and Diablo, were able to agree—this time on the Broncos.

Eli, an orangutan from Utah who has correctly chosen the past six Super Bowl winners, called it for the Seahawks.

In Montana, a grizzly bear named Ozzy hemmed and hawed before finally eating the cake with the Broncos' logo on it. Whether this was meant to signify a win or loss for the Broncos, Ozzy did not say.

Truly, it's anyone's game.

Finally, on a sad note, a memorial service has been planned for Princess, a camel in New Jersey who had correctly predicted six of the past seven Super Bowl contests. She died of natural causes on January 14 at Popcorn Park Zoo in Forked River. Her body was cremated.

Enjoy the game, everyone!

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The long-awaited premiere of "DamNation" will be at SXSW in March.     Photo: Felt Soul Media/Vimeo

"DamNation" to Premiere at SXSW

Dam removal on the big stage

Three years ago, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and biologist Matt Stoecker set out to make a film about dam removal and restoring some of the country’s greatest waterways to their natural state.

Travis Rummel and Ben Knight of Felt Soul Media quickly emerged as the men for the job after showcasing their unique storytelling ability in films such as Red Gold and Eastern Rises. Yesterday, after a long wait, the duo announced that the film will premiere in March at SXSW.

In addition to their loyal fans and those in favor of dam removal across the country, Felt Soul Media might be more fired up than anyone. “Goddam we’re excited to unleash the beast!” and “Welp, that only took three years. Yeow!” were both posted to the FSM Facebook page yesterday.

A lot of time and energy has gone into this project, beginning with a Commitment Grant from Telluride’s Mountainfilm in 2011. If Felt Soul Media’s prior work is any indication, DamNation is sure to be a heavy hitter.

SXSW Film Festival runs from March 7 through 15.

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Aerial view of Great Barrier Reef.     Photo: Tanya Puntti/iStockphoto

Sediment Dump on Great Barrier Reef OK'd

Opponents fear plan will damage fragile ecosystem

The Australian government agency that oversees the Great Barrier Reef approved a plan to expand a major coal port in Queensland by dumping 792,516,157 gallons of dredged mud on the Great Barrier Reef.

Environmentalists are infuriated, saying that the reef has already lost huge amounts of coral to storm damage and coral-eating starfish. A 2012 UNESCO report expressed concern about development along the reef and warned that the World Heritage site was at risk as being listed as "in danger," similar to the Everglades National Park in Florida.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman told reporters that the government would protect the environment, but not at the expense of the state's economy. "We are in the coal business," he told reporters. "If you want decent hospitals, schools, and police on the beat, we all need to understand that."

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Thanks to vodka, Russian men have the lowest life expectancy in the world.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Russian Vodka Kills

Lowers male life expectancy

New research explains why Russian men have the lowest life expectancy in the world. As a result of heavy vodka drinking, Russian males are only expected to reach an age of 64, compared to 76 for U.S. males.  

The ten-year study by Russian and British researchers examined the lifestyle habits of more than 57,000 men, and revealed that those who enjoyed more than three bottles of vodka per week had a 35 percent chance of dying during the next 20 years. Those who enjoyed only one bottle fared better, with a 16 percent chance. Men who both smoked and drank had an even higher mortality rate, reports NBC News.

The findings don’t stop at the obvious. Russian men haven’t always imbibed to the point of self-extinction. Researchers discovered that trends in death rates have ebbed and flowed with the leadership of the country during the past 30 years. The connection lies in alcohol restrictions that varied between presidents from Gorbachev to Putin, which invariably impacted vodka intake. 

Although statistics are slowly improving, researchers conclude that heavy drinking and male mortality before age 55 “are still substantial” in Russia.

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