News briefs:August 4, 2010

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Today on Wikinews : Eight people and a gunman are dead in shooting rampage at a Connecticut beer warehouse; US President Barack Obama'a approval ratings hit a new low and in history, we trace the importance of a humble, everyday device that was vital for the French Revolution.

Today is Wednesday, August 04, 2010. I'm Dan Harlow and this is Wikinews.


Nine dead in shooting rampage at Connecticut beer warehouse (0:34)

A Manchester, Connecticut beer driver caught stealing beer from the warehouse he works for has killed nine people, including himself, after he resigned and went on a shooting rampage. The man, Omar Thornton, went on his killing spree after being showed video evidence of him stealing beer from Hartford Distributors Inc, a beverage wholesaler.

Company Vice President Steve Hollander said that Thornton "was cool and calm. He didn't yell. He was cold as ice. He didn't protest when we were meeting with him to show him the video of him stealing. He didn't contest it. He didn't complain. He didn't argue. He didn't admit or deny anything. He just agreed to resign. And then he just unexplainably pulled out his gun and started blasting."

Hollander also stated that the 34 year-old man had guns hidden away in his lunch box. The Vice President, who says that two people around him were killed, was only injured and added "By just the grace of God, I don't know how he missed me." Another employee said "people were pleading with him to put the gun down and to stop, but he was in his own world at that point."

Thornton opened fire around 7:00 am local time (11:00 UTC). According to his uncle, Will Holliday, during a phone call, in which his mother pleaded with the gunman not to commit suicide, Thornton said that "[he] killed the five racists that was there that was bothering me. The cops are going to come in so I am going to take care of myself,"

One dead after small plane crashes near Phoenix (2:02)

The pilot of a small plane that crashed into a warehouse near Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix, Arizona has been confirmed dead.

The plane veered off the airport runway early Wednesday, shortly before landing, and then slammed into a pest-control building a quarter-mile away, bursting into flames. The cause of the crash is unknown, and no one knows how many passengers were in the plane. The small plane was a four-seat single-engine Cirrus SR 22, which is built out of a composite of plastics and fiberglass.

Cindy Cross, a witness of the crash, said that "there was just a horrible black plume of smoke. We knew that it had hit a building and that it was bad because it wasn't a normal fire."

The Deer Valley Airport serves general aviation and hosts an aviation school. It is unknown if the flight was a training flight or not.

Obama approval ratings hit new lows (2:54)

According to new polls, US President Barack Obama's approval ratings have dropped across the board. According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, Americans are losing faith in the president's plan in Afghanistan and Iraq, where wars have been going on for years and casualties have risen. 43% of those polled say that it was a mistake to go to war after terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center buildings in New York on September 11, 2001. Barely a third of respondents favored Obama's strategy in the two Middle East wars. In another Gallup poll, just 36% of poll respondents supported the way Obama was handling Afghanistan, a sharp decline from 48% in February.

The drop in support for the ongoing wars (though the one in Iraq is slated to end soon) has been hastened by rising casualties and the Wikileaks leak of over 90,000 confidential military documents that paint a grim picture of the war in Afghanistan. About 76,000 of these have been released to the public. However, two-thirds of the people polled in the USA Today/Gallup Poll said it was wrong for the whistle-blower website to publish the documents, which have often been compared to the Pentagon Papers. Also, 57% of respondents said they want a timetable for removing American troops, and two-thirds of those 57% said they want a gradual withdrawal.

Obama's approval rating also hit a new low in the poll. Just 41% of poll respondents approved of Obama's handling of his job, while 53% disapproved. The above poll was conducted Tuesday through Sunday, and a Gallup poll on Monday had him at 45% approval. A Rasmussen Reports poll has Obama's July approval rating at 46%, while 54% disapprove.

Also, according to another poll, Obama's quarterly job approval average has hit an administration low. The quarterly rating, which is compiled of Gallup polls averaged out each quarter, has sunk every quarter Obama has been in office, but at different rates. In his sixth quarter of office, Obama averaged 47.3% approval, which varied from 52% in a poll conducted in mid-May to just 44% in another one conducted in mid-July. The biggest quarterly drop that Obama had was from Q2 to Q3 of his presidency, when health-care reform ran into trouble. Obama's approval rating declined from 62% to 52.9% during that period. Since then, the approval slide has plateaued, with declines of 2% of average from Q4-Q6.

On this day in history (5:27)

In the 1790's, after the beheading of King Louis XVI during the French Revolution, the French Revolutionary army had begun to expand French control to the Low Countries, Italy, and the Rhineland.

However, though the army was characterized by its revolutionary fervor, it initially experienced mixed results. France's enemies, fearing the revolution would soon be exported to their empires, included Prussia, Austria, Sardinia, Naples, Spain and Great Britain and enjoyed superior military numbers. France thus found herself under attack on all fronts and when an armed revolt broke out in La Vendée, a fiercely Catholic region of France, it seemed that the fall of the young republic was imminent.

Poorly disciplined and, just as importantly, poorly equipped, the French Revolutionary army needed rearranging. So, in early 1793 a man named Lazare Carnot, a prominent mathematician and physicist, was promoted to the Committee of Public Safety. Carnot, who was an exceptional talent for organization and for enforcing discipline, set about reorganizing the disheveled Armies. Realizing that no amount of reform and discipline was going to offset the massive numerical superiority enjoyed by France's enemies, Carnot introduced conscription, known as the levée en masse, and he was able to raise France’s army from a meager 645,000 troops in mid-1793 to 1,500,000 in September 1794.

Once the problem of troop numbers had been solved Carnot turned his administrative skills to the supplies that this massive army would need. Many of the munitions and supplies were in short supply: copper was lacking for guns so he ordered church bells seized in order to melt them down; saltpeter was lacking and he called chemistry to his aid and leather for boots was scarce so he demanded and secured new methods for tanning.

Yet in 1795, France was under a naval blockade imposed by Great Britain and was unable to import pure graphite sticks from the British Grey Knotts mines – the only known source in the world at the time for solid graphite. Carnot, needing to keep track of the armies supplies thus faced a unique problem; he had all these supplies, but was running out of pencils to keep tally of the mass of inventories.

To solve this problem, Carnot turned to one of his officers, a man named Nicolas-Jacques Conté who was born on this day in history in 1755. After several days of research, Conté discovered a method of mixing powdered graphite with clay and forming the mixture into rods that were then fired in a kiln. By varying the ratio of graphite to clay, the hardness of the graphite rod could also be varied.

Thus was formed the humble, modern pencil and with its assistance the First French Republic, which had started out from a position precariously near occupation and collapse, had defeated all its enemies and produced a revolutionary army that would take the other powers years to emulate. In 1802, France and England signed the Treaty of Amiens, the only period of peace during the so-called 'Great French War' between 1793 and 1815, however the peace treaty only lasted for one year - one wonders if it may have been signed with one of Conté's pencils.


And those are the top headlines for Wednesday, August 04, 2010

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