AFP/Manjunath Kiran
Indian Space Research Organisation scientists and officials celebrate the success of Mars Orbiter Mission at their Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network complex in Bangalore, India, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. India triumphed in its first interplanetary mission, placing a satellite into orbit around Mars on Wednesday morning and catapulting the country into an elite club of deep-space explorers.

How Did I Miss That? Nerds in Saris; Naked Truth

Steve Russell

Within the happy news that India has successfully placed a satellite into orbit around Mars, the BBC noted that a photo of the stereotypical control room success celebration of the nerds did not look like the photos we are used to seeing from NASA in Houston. Photographer Manjunath Kiran caught the denizens of mission control grinning ear to ear as is common with space successes, but all the rocket scientists in the foreground were women dressed in traditional saris. The BBC took the opportunity to profile several women prominent in the Indian space program, but the picture of the control room celebration went viral and that photo is more likely than any news story to draw Indian girls into the sciences and fix their aspirations on the stars. “Nerds in saris,” my cousin Ray Sixkiller wondered, “where will they put the pocket protectors?”

Entertainment Weekly reported that Dating Naked contestant Jessie Nizewitz, 28, has sued the reality TV show for…showing her naked. The legal issue will be whether the law recognizes a cause of action for inadequate pixilation. Cousin Ray, not being a lawyer, was rolling on the floor laughing.

PBS reported that about 2,000 workers struck’s facilities in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. Germany is the most robust economy in the EU and Amazon’s second largest market, next to the US. Approximately 9,000 Amazon warehouse employees in Germany start at $12.25 an hour plus paid vacation and health insurance, retirement plans, and holiday bonuses. Counting benefits, Amazon claims that new stockers make about $2,000 a month.

PBS reported it’s a culture clash. In the US, employers dictate wages and working conditions. In Germany, unions do, even in unorganized businesses, because the union contracts cover an entire sector. A union spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal, "We won't accept that the company arbitrarily dictates salaries. Only a collective wage agreement guarantees workers salaries and working conditions that secure their livelihood."

Discovery News reported a study of monkeys who were offered unequal pay for the same work, cucumber v. grapes. The monkeys who were paid in cucumber were perfectly fine until they saw other monkeys receiving grapes for the same task, at which time they heaved the cucumber slices back at the experimenter and pitched a fit. “Sounds like,” Cousin Ray chuckled, “those monkeys need a union.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists updated a study from 2012 that found electric cars charged in states that get electricity from coal are responsible for no less CO2 pollution than high gas mileage conventional cars. Utilities are using less coal and electric vehicles have gotten more efficient. The average electric vehicle is now as clean as a gas vehicle that gets 43 mpg in a high coal use state. A spokesman for the UCS was quoted in The New York Times that the answer to CO2 pollution “is to be like Bob Dylan and go electric.”

The Washington Post reported how Omar Jose Gonzalez, a mentally disturbed veteran, managed to defeat five or seven layers of Secret Service security, depending on how you count, to get inside the White House. “They should give this guy a medal,” Cousin Ray said, “because he did a great system test but he meant the president no harm.” Jimmy Kimmel reported that the Secret Service has beefed up White House security by building a new three-foot fence “the day after they decided to start locking the door.”

The Florida gubernatorial election is so nasty, a Republican political consultant told The New York Times, “the winner of this race will have a 19 percent approval rating and the loser 17 percent.” The Times opined that the key to victory will be voter turnout. “When was the last election,” Cousin Ray wanted to know, “when the key to victory was not voter turnout?”

The Epoch Times, a newspaper published by the Chinese religious sect Falun Gong, reported that Francisco Garcia, 47, was charged with buying votes in a Donna, Texas school board election with dime bags of cocaine. “What he was buying was turnout,” Cousin Ray pointed out, “unless he went into the voting booth with each person. But I have to admit cocaine ramps it up from beer and BBQ.”

The Washington Post reported on a lesser-known tragedy pulled along behind the Ebola epidemic in Liberia. The health care system has been so focused on Ebola that normal medical needs are going unmet. This has been particularly dangerous for pregnant women, who cannot delay their needs.

In the direct front against the Ebola virus, Pulitzer Prize winning science reporter Laurie Garrett reported in Foreign Policy on President Obama’s decision to post 3,000 soldiers and $750 million to attack the epidemic, joining contributions from the UK, France, Cuba, and China. Deaths per day in Liberia have risen from two in June to 59 this month. If the Ebola virus mutates to airborne status, which is entirely possible, it could threaten the world very quickly.

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, told the UN Security Council, "This is likely the greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced. None of us experienced in containing outbreaks has ever seen, in our lifetimes, an emergency on this scale, with the degree of suffering, and with this magnitude of cascading consequences." The New York Times reported from the ground in Liberia, based on interviews with Liberian gravediggers, that even the WHO figures on the death toll are grossly underreported.

In another public health issue of national importance, the Violence Against Women Act, finally re-authorized over the objections of Republicans to allowing tribal courts jurisdiction over non-Indians who beat up Indian women on Indian land, created the National Domestic Violence Hotline, but never fully funded it. As a result of the publicity over the NFL’s struggle with woman beating, hotline calls spiked to the point only half of them were getting through. The hotline is now going to be fully funded for the first time in its history by the NFL, thanks to the NFL’s need for image repair. “Boy,” Cousin Ray marveled, “talk about a good news-bad news item!”

Judge Mark E. Fuller of Alabama has been accused by Democrats of doing politics from his lifetime job. Now, his political problems have been ramped up by his second offense of domestic violence when he recently got charged with beating his wife in an Atlanta Ritz-Carlton. Some might say a federal judge, unlike a football player, is not a role model for kids. Unfortunately true, because more kids could realistically aspire to be judges than to be football players. But judges wield real power, and Judge Fuller claimed self-defense because his wife threw a glass at him and, more disturbing, was quoted in The New York Times, “I deeply regret this incident and look forward to working to resolve these difficulties with my family, where they should be resolved.” Is this somebody who should construe the Violence Against Women Act?

Speaking of violence against women, California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Andrew has resigned after being photographed astride a supine Marlene Pinnock, 51, delivering blows to her face with his fists. The video, shot by a passer-by, resulted in a $1.5 million settlement to Pinnock after mediation. Cousin Ray observed that it would have been nice if the settlement had come from the beating rather than from the video.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted 13-12 to continue to deny equal benefits to gay veterans who live in states that do not recognize their marriage. The Department of Defense already extends equal benefits, but the DVA is stuck with the law of the veteran’s state of residency. All the Democrats and one Republican supported the veterans. Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) claimed he was not opposed to the veterans but in favor of the Constitution, as clear a case of constitutional illiteracy as anyone is likely to see even in this Congress. “Didn’t you notice,” my embarrassed Republican cousin mumbled, “bigots never hesitate to make up stuff?”

Speaking of bigots making up stuff, Washburn University Law Professor Susannah Pollvogt objected that federal judges cited her work for the proposition that state bans on gay marriage are not products of discriminatory animus when she had demonstrated the precise opposite.

The Star-Ledger reported that two more US senators are pushing legislation to revoke the tax-exempt status of the NFL for different reasons. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is reacting to the NFL’s lack of spine in dealing with domestic violence and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is reacting to the racist mascot of the Washington football team. Tax-exempt status means ordinary citizens pay corporate welfare, and this bit of welfare originated when Senate Finance Committee Chair Russell Long (D-LA) slipped it into an unrelated bill in return for the promise that New Orleans would get the next expansion team. Go Saints!

Reports were unclear whether Booker and Cantwell were focusing legislation on the NFL or endorsing the Properly Reducing Overexemptions for Sports Act aka PRO Sports already introduced by Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Angus King (I-ME) and aimed at not just the NFL but also the NHL, the PGA Tour, and the LPGA.

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