Wikinews:Briefs/July 14, 2010

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Today on Wikinews : BP's new cap on the Gulf of Mexico oil well is lowered into place; crash data suggests driver error in the recent Toyota accidents; a drunken Australian man is surprised that a crocodile bit him after he climbs into its pen at the Broome Crocodile Parkand and, in history, the epicenter of conspiracy theories and alien technology is revealed by the US government to actually exist.

Today is Wednesday, July 14th, 2010. I'm Dan Harlow and this is Wikinews.


A new sealing cap has been installed on a leaking well in an effort by the BP energy company to contain oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. The previous containment cap, which was removed Saturday, had a much looser fit than the new one and allowed oil to escape into the Gulf. It took about three days for the cap to be removed, the site prepared, and the new one to be slowly lowered into position.

The energy company had planned to begin running integrity tests Tuesday to measure the performance of the well under pressure, although these tests have been delayed for further analysis. If the tests show that the well is strong enough, the sealing cap will be closed, shutting in the oil flow. If the well cannot be safely closed from the top, the new cap is designed to funnel almost all the oil to ships above while two relief wells are constructed for a permanent fix. After the old cap was removed, oil flowed freely into the waters of the Gulf until the present cap was installed at about 7:00 PM local time on Monday.

BP has stated that this oil containment system has never been deployed at the current depths, nor has it been tested in the conditions that it will be expected to operate in. During the testing period, which could last anywhere from six to forty-eight hours, all undersea oil containment systems will be temporarily suspended. During this time, BP hopes that no oil will be released into the Gulf from the leaking well; however, this cannot be assured. The company made clear that, even if the tests succeed, this does not mean that oil leakage has permanently ceased.

Doug Suttles, a BP executive, explained that during the test, the valves on the new cap will be slowly shut and the well pressure monitored. Once the valves are closed oil should cease to leak, for the first time since the spill began earlier this year. Suttles said at a Monday briefing that the ideal would be for tests to show high pressure around the seal, indicating that no oil is escaping. He also stated that on the other hand, the pressures could be lower than anticipated, leading to the assumption that the well is damaged and is leaking oil and gas into surrounding rock. If this were to happen, keeping the cap shut would continue to damage the well further. The solution for this scenario is to reopen the valves and funnel most, if not all, of the oil to ships above.

Drilling of the first relief well was suspended until completion of the pressure test. BP senior vice president Kent Wells explained at his Wednesday morning briefing that the first relief well is now 4 feet from the original well and there is a remote possibility that the pressure test could open a path to the relief well. Drilling of the second relief well has stopped at 16,000 feet so as not to interfere with the first well and to keep routing options open in case the first relief well fails. Even if the pressure tests do succeed and the main well is shut, work on the first relief well will continue until it intercepts the main well. When this occurs, mud and cement will be pumped into the well for a permanent seal. Containment operations will continue even if the relief wells are finished to deal with oil already released.

The cap installation is one of the steps of a procedure that could take several more days with the goal of ending the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began on April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing eleven and marking the beginning of the worst offshore oil spill in United States history.

The United States today handed over 26 Iraqi prisoners, including Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's former deputy prime minister to the Iraqi government.

The prisoners were held at Camp Cropper, the US's detention facility in Iraq. Control of Camp Cropper is scheduled to be transferred to the Iraqi government in a ceremony on Thursday.

Aziz, 74, was sentenced to fifteen years of incarceration by the Iraqi judicial system for the 1992 executions of 42 merchants who profiteered.

According to Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim, 29 additional prisoners were handed over ten months ago. Ibrahim said, "As of today, we have received 55 former regime officials, the main one is Tariq Aziz, and the others are the oil and culture ministers."

Aziz's defense attorney Badee Izzat Aref told the Associated Press that Aziz feared the Iraqi government would execute him. Aref said Aziz told him that "[t]he Iraqi government will certainly kill me. I fear for my life. I expect I won't live except for days. I'm afraid they'll poison my food or won't give me my medicine to silence me. President Obama is no different from Bush, who has Iraqi blood on his hands."

Ibrahim asked the US Military to maintain custody of about 200 detainees for security reasons, including Sultan Hashim al-Taie. The Iraqi government will take custody of the remaining 1,800 prisoners held at Camp Cropper.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed data from the vehicles involved in accidents caused by sudden acceleration, which led to Toyota, the world's top automaker, recalling a large number of automobiles. Early analysis showed that the throttle was wide open and the brakes weren't engaged when the cars crashed, and suggests that the accidents may have been caused by drivers unintentionally flooring the accelerator instead of the brakes. The U.S. Department of Transportation did not confirm this report.

However, Toyota is still under federal investigation for a number of known issues with its cars' acceleration. The accelerator is known to not return to idle after it has been released, and the floor mats are known to trap the accelerator pedal. Toyota is also suspected of having electronic glitches in its computer-controlled throttle systems, but released a statement on Wednesday saying that its investigations found no problems in the throttle systems.

Over the years Toyota has received more than 3000 complaints about sudden acceleration. These may have caused up to 75 fatal crashes that led to 93 deaths. Due to these accidents, Toyota provided the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with ten event data recorders from cars involved in accidents. However, the NHTSA has only managed to confirm that one of these accidents was caused by malfunctions in the car – an accident in California this August that was caused by the floor mat trapping the gas pedal in a depressed position.

The NHTSA, in conjunction with NASA, has begun a broader study into what caused these accidents, however conclusions aren't expected for months. The ongoing lawsuits against Toyota could result in more than $10 billion of damages.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested and charged a woman with murder, after she reportedly stabbed her ten-year-old daughter to death at the Air Force base Fort MacArthur residential facility in San Pedro, California. The girl's father is a former member of the Navy.

The 49-year-old mother, Bong Sook Chavez, allegedly slit her daughter's wrists and neck. Chavez slit her own wrists after attacking her daughter. In a statement issued on Monday, investigators say Chavez likely stabbed her daughter while she was asleep in bed.

Deputy Chief Pat Gannon told the Los Angeles Times that Chavez has a history of mental health problems. According to Gannon, "The father was able to get the weapon away from her." after the father awoke at around 2:30 a.m. local time to find Chavez attacking her daughter.

The daughter, Quesi Chavez, later died at the University of Southern California's Medical Center as a result of her wounds. As of Monday, the mother remained in the hospital in stable condition, but was scheduled to appear in court yesterday.

In her first election promise, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard specifically offered parents tax breaks of up to A$800 to cover the school uniforms of their children.

Gillard aims to pledge $220 million over four years to expand the current tax breaks to cover refunds each worth $390 for primary school uniforms and $779 for high school uniforms, as well as refunds for other school equipment like texts books and computers. Gillard stated "We all know that uniforms can be an expensive part of sending kids to school, but this change, along with the existing refund for textbooks and computers, will help families with that cost."

This comes amongst heavy speculation that a federal election is to be called in the coming days. Education Minister Simon Crean stated that the new proposal is an “important recognition of the cost of school uniforms and it builds on something that we have established in Government but intend extending if we're [re-]elected ...”

As it stands, 1.7 million Australian children are assisted by the current tax breaks; this proposal could extend coverage to an additional million children, however the tax breaks will not be available until after the lodging of the 2012–13 tax returns.

Technology giant Intel released its second quarter results Tuesday, which were the best in the 42 years of the company's existence. The stronger than anticipated results boosted the company's share price, along with those of other technology firms.

Intel's revenues over the quarter up through June 26th were $10.8 billion, with net profits at $2.9 billion. In the same quarter last year, the company sustained a loss of $398 million. Its gross margin rose to 67%, higher than the forecast of 64.1%. The results were better than forecast by either Intel or outside analysts.

The company, which makes processors for around 80 percent of the world's personal computers, is thought to have benefited from an increase in demand for electronics as the world economy moves out of recession.

Intel shares rose by 8% following the results. Shares at rival processor manufacturer AMD also rose by 5.5%, with other technology firms seeing similar gains. The Dow Jones Industrial index closed the day at 10,363, an increase of nearly 147 points.

Last month, Paul D. Ceglia filed suit against Facebook, the world's largest social network, claiming that he rightfully owns 84 percent of the company. The lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, bases its claims on a 2003 contract between Ceglia and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The contract reportedly states that Zuckerberg would give Ceglia 50 percent ownership in the company in exchange for designing a website "similar to a live functioning yearbook with the working title of 'The Face Book'," and paying a $1000 fee. Ceglia would also get an extra percentage point every day after January 1, 2004 until the work was completed.

Earlier this month, Judge Thomas Brown issued a temporary restraining order that prevents transfer of Facebook's assets in light of the ongoing lawsuit. According to Victor P. Goldberg, who teaches at Columbia University's Law School, the lawsuit may get tripped up by the statute of limitations, which is six years in New York. PC World says that one problem with Ceglia's claim is that the contract was purportedly signed in 2003, while Zuckerberg didn't register the domain name until January 2004.

A Facebook spokesman has stated that they believe this current suit is completely frivolous and will fight it vigorously.

This is not the first time Ceglia has appeared in court. In 2009, New York's Attorney General Andrew Cuomo accused Ceglia of fraud. The state claims that Ceglia took more than $200,000 from customers of a wood-pellet fuel company, and failed to deliver any products or refunds; that case is still ongoing.

A 36 year-old man is recovering from surgery after his leg was seriously injured as a result of a bite from a five metre long crocodile named 'Fatso.' Michal Newman, who was intoxicated, climbed into its pen, claiming he wanted to play with it. Newman is now in Broome Hospital, Western Australia after his skirmish with the crocodile which occurred on Monday night at the Broome Crocodile Park.

In an interview on ABC Radio, Newman explained the events this way : "I thought to myself, 'Well, I will jump the fence and go from behind its tail and pat it and sit on its back, ... and within like one split second before I even slightly touched its back, it already had me by my leg ...".

Experts suggest that as it is winter, the crocodile would be generally inactive at night. In warmer conditions the outcome could have been much worse.

After being grabbed by the crocodile, Newman clung to the fence and yelled at it until it let go, allowing him to scramble over the fence. Newman, nicknamed 'Crocodile Dumb-dee' by the Western Australian media, was earlier removed from a Broome tavern for drunk and disorderly conduct. After the attack however, the AAP news agency says he was allowed back in for one more drink before being taken to the hospital.

Newman says he'll never go near another crocodile again but there's no word on if he'll go near another drink, however.

On this day in history (15:42)

In 2003, The United States Government admitted to the existence of "Area 51", a military base located in the southern portion of Nevada in the western United States, 83 miles north-northwest of downtown Las Vegas. Situated at its center, on the southern shore of Groom Lake, is a large secretive military airfield whose primary purpose is to support development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems.

The intense secrecy surrounding the base, the very existence of which the U.S. government still barely acknowledges, has made it the frequent subject of conspiracy theories and a central component to unidentified flying object (UFO) folklore.

The base is home to the testing of many famous aircraft, especially those designed by the famed Skunk Works, an alias for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs which was responsible for the development of the U2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 NightHawk and the F-22 Raptor. A distinguishing characteristic of all these aircraft is their low radar visibility, called stealth technology, which was tested at the Area 51 site.

Soviet spy satellites obtained photographs of the Groom Lake area during the height of the Cold War, and later civilian satellites produced detailed images of the base and its surroundings. These images support only modest conclusions about the base, depicting a nondescript base, long airstrip, hangars and the lake. The base has seven runways including one that now appears to be closed. The closed runway, 14R/32L, is also by far the longest with a total length of approximately 23,300 feet (7,100 m), not including stop-way.

In December 2007, airline pilots noticed that the base had appeared in their aircraft navigation systems' latest Jeppesen database revision with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) airport identifier code of KXTA and listed as "Homey Airport". The probably inadvertent release of the airport data led to advice by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) that student pilots should be explicitly warned about KXTA and not to consider it as a way-point or destination for any flight even though it now appears in public navigation databases.

Unlike much of the adjoining Nellis Air Force Base range, the area surrounding the lake is permanently off-limits both to civilian and normal military air traffic. Radar stations protect the area, and unauthorized personnel are quickly expelled. Even military pilots risk disciplinary action if they stray into the exclusionary "box" surrounding Groom's airspace.

The base does not appear on public U.S. government maps; the USGS topographic map for the area only shows the long-disused Groom Mine. A civil aviation chart published by the Nevada Department of Transportation shows a large restricted area, but defines it as part of the Nellis restricted airspace. Although officially declassified, the original film taken by U.S. Corona spy satellite in the 1960s has been altered prior to declassification; in answer to freedom of information queries, the government responds that these exposures appear to have been destroyed.

The base's secretive nature and undoubted connection to classified aircraft research, together with reports of unusual phenomena, have led Area 51 to become a focus of modern UFO and conspiracy theories. Some of the activities mentioned in such theories at Area 51 include the storage, examination, and reverse engineering of crashed alien spacecraft (including material supposedly recovered at Roswell), the study of their occupants (living and dead), and the manufacture of aircraft based on alien technology. Other conspiracy theories state Area 51 has technology leading to the development of a means of weather control, time travel and teleportation technology.

Many of the conspiracy hypotheses concern underground facilities at Groom or at Papoose Lake, which is located 8.5 miles south, and include claims of a transcontinental underground railroad system, a disappearing airstrip (nicknamed the "Cheshire Airstrip", after Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat) which briefly appears when water is sprayed onto its camouflaged asphalt, and engineering based on alien technology. Publicly available satellite imagery, however, reveals clearly visible landing strips at Groom Dry Lake, but not at Papoose Lake.

Several people have claimed knowledge of events supporting Area 51 conspiracy theories. These have included Bob Lazar, who claimed in 1989 that he had worked at Area 51's S-4 (a facility at Papoose Lake), where he was contracted to work with alien spacecraft that the U.S. government had in its possession.

Similarly, the 1996 documentary Dreamland directed by Bruce Burgess included an interview with a 71 year old mechanical engineer who claimed to be a former employee at Area 51 during the 1950s. His claims included that he had worked on a "flying disc simulator" which had been based on a disc originating from a crashed extraterrestrial craft and was used to train US Pilots. He also claimed to have worked with an extraterrestrial being named "J-Rod" and described as a "telepathic translator".

In 2004, Dan Burisch (pseudonym of Dan Crain) claimed to have worked on cloning alien viruses at Area 51, also alongside the alien named "J-Rod". Burisch's scholarly credentials are the subject of much debate, as he was apparently working as a Las Vegas parole officer in 1989 while also earning a PhD at the State University of New York.

Novels, films, television programs, and other fictional portrayals of Area 51 describe it—or a fictional counterpart—as a haven for extraterrestrials, time travel, and sinister conspiracies, often linking it with the Roswell UFO incident. During the 1996 action film Independence Day, the United States military uses alien technology captured at Roswell to attack the invading alien fleet from Area 51. The "Hangar 51" government warehouse of the Indiana Jones films stores, among other exotic items, the Ark of the Covenant and an alien corpse from Roswell.

The famous science fiction television "The X-Files" made numerous references to Area 51 during its nine seasons, including an episode where the main character of Fox Mulder switches bodies with that of a man in black type figure (with humorous marriage difficulties) who is an operative working on the base.

As outlandish as many of the conspiracy theories are, according to political scientist Michael Barkun, conspiracy theories once limited to fringe audiences have become commonplace in mass media. He argues that this has contributed to conspiracism emerging as a cultural phenomenon in the United States of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and the possible replacement of democracy by conspiracy as the dominant paradigm of political action in the public mind.

According to anthropologists Todd Sanders and Harry G. West, "evidence suggests that a broad cross section of Americans today…gives credence to at least some conspiracy theories." Belief in conspiracy theories has therefore become a topic of interest for sociologists, psychologists and experts in folklore.


And those are the top headlines for Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

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