Student Punished For ‘Bless You’

VACAVILLE, Calif., Sept. 29 (UPI) — A California high school teacher who reduced a student’s grade for saying “bless you” to another student who sneezed said the punishment was about disruption.

Steve Cuckovich, health teacher at Will C. Wood High School in Vacaville, said he knocked 25 points off a student’s grade for saying “bless you,” but the punishment had nothing to do with religious beliefs, KXTL-TV, Sacramento, reported Thursday.

“It’s got to do with an interruption of class time,” Cuckovich said.

“The blessing doesn’t really make sense anymore,” he said. “When you sneeze in the old days, they thought you were dispelling evil spirits out of your body. So they were saying, ‘God bless you,’ for getting rid of evil spirits. But today, what you’re doing doesn’t really make any sense anymore.”

Principal Cliff DeGraw said he has spoken with Cuckovich and the teacher now understands the punishment was inappropriate.

“He realizes there’s better ways to do that. We don’t condone that type of punishment,” DeGraw said.



Man Shoots Self On First Date

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Sept. 29 (UPI) — Police in North Carolina said a couple’s first date was interrupted when a man accidentally shot himself in a parking garage.

Charlotte police said the couple returned to the man’s car after eating Tuesday at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on Fairview Road and the man’s gun, which was in the car, somehow went off and shot the man, The Charlotte Observer reported Wednesday.

His date was not injured and he was treated at Carolinas Medical Center for a non-life-threatening leg wound.

WCNC-TV, Charlotte, said police have ruled the shooting accidental and are trying to determine how the gun went off.

Radio Station Offers ‘Win A Baby’ Contest

OTTAWA, Sept. 29 (UPI) — A Canadian radio station is running a “Win a Baby” contest, with the winner getting three free in vitro fertilization treatments.

The prize offered by CIHT-FM, a hip hop radio station that goes by the moniker Hot 89.9, is worth at least $35,000, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday.

One expert on infertility, Jan Silverman, says the contest highlights the issue of couples not being able to afford fertility treatments but has reservations about way the station is going about it.

“I certainly dislike the commodification of babies, turning babies into products,” Silverman said. “However, I am pleased that it brings attention to the plight, to the expense that infertile couples that require IVF must go through to have a baby.”

Five finalists will be culled from those who enter the contest and tell their personal stories on air. Listeners will then vote online before a panel of judges selects the winner, the CBC said.

Tiger Removed From Egyptian Home

NEW CAIRO, Egypt, Sept. 29 (UPI) — Authorities in Egypt said a tiger was confiscated from a man who allegedly allowed the animal to roam freely in his yard.

The New Cairo Police Department and the General Department for Environmental Police said the tiger was taken from a Saudi man living in the Rehab development after complaints from neighbors about the wild animal, al-Masry al-Youm reported Thursday.

The tiger was anesthetized and taken to the Giza Zoo.

Police said the case has been referred to prosecutors.


Two-Faced Cat Sets Longevity Record

WORCESTER, Mass., Sept. 29 (UPI) — A Massachusetts woman said her 12-year-old cat made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest living cat born with two faces.

Marty, the Worcester cat owner who asked for her last name to be withheld, said her feline, which she dubbed Frank and Louie, made it into the 2012 record book for being the longest living cat with the condition, which is known as Janus, The Boston Globe reported Thursday.

Frank and Louie has three eyes, two noses and two mouths. However, the cat, which has only one brain, only uses one of the mouths for eating.

“Frank does the eating,” Marty said. “He only has to eat for one cat body. He’s just one cat body with an extra face.”

Marty said she was working at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University 12 years ago when someone brought Frank and Louie in to be put to sleep. Marty said she decided to take the animal home and has been caring for him ever since.

“He’s acclimated very well,” Marty said. “He doesn’t know he’s any different. He thinks he’s a normal cat.”

OnStar Backs Up On Tracking Ex-Clients

DETROIT, Sept. 28 (UPI) — U.S. automobile navigation service OnStar said it would reverse direction concerning a policy of keeping track of former customers.

OnStar, which is owned by General Motors, wrote to customers that it would track former clients unless they notified the company they preferred not to be tracked, the New York Daily News reported Wednesday.

But the policy provoked a political backlash with Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Al Franken, D-Minn., and Christopher Coons, D-Del., speaking up against the policy, which would have affected 6 million subscribers.

Privacy advocates also voiced disapproval, the newspaper said.

Schumer had gone so far as to ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the matter.

But OnStar changed course. OnStar President Linda Marshall said, “We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers.”

The new policy requires customers to take the first step, notifying OnStar first that they have permission to monitor the customer.

The system can track a driver’s speed and location. It can also relay information on whether or not the driver is wearing a seat belt.

In a statement, Schumer said, “This announcement puts decisions about personal privacy back where they belong, in the hands of individuals.”


Lawsuit Filed Over Obese Worker’s Firing

HOUSTON, Sept. 28 (UPI) — A U.S. worker fired because of his obesity was terminated illegally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says in court papers.

BAE Systems, which manufactures vehicles for the military, fired material handler Ronald Kratz II in October 2009 after noting that he was having trouble walking from the parking lot to the plant, the Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday.

At the time, he weighed 600 pounds, the newspaper said.

Kratz had been working at the plant for 15 years before he was fired. In 2008 and 2009, his work performance was rated as “very good” in annual evaluations, court papers said.

The lawsuit also says Kratz was not offered “reasonable accommodation,” which is a broad term that relates to the Americans with Disabilities Act regarding reasonable changes in a job to allow a worker to maintain a position.

BAE said it would comment on the case “at the appropriate time and manner.”

EEOC attorney Kathy Boutchee said the company noted that Kratz was having trouble bending and stooping, but his job did not require he do those activities, as he sorted parts at a raised platform.

Nevertheless, he was told that, “the company had reached the conclusion that he could no longer perform his job duties because of his weight and he was therefore terminated,” the lawsuit said.

GDP Back At 1.3 Percent For Second Quarter

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (UPI) — The Commerce Department revised the U.S. real gross domestic product for the second quarter back to show 1.3 percent growth on Thursday.

The department started with an estimate of 1.3 percent growth in July, then revised that down to 1 percent growth in August.

Thursday’s estimate is the final estimate in the trio of reports issued by the department.

Economists had expected a bounce back to 1.2 percent, which is higher than the 0.4 percent growth of the first quarter, but not a strong enough showing to indicate a reduction in the unemployment rate is imminent.

The figure, however, wards off any immediate forecasts that the U.S. is headed for a second double-dip recession.

In the final estimate, consumer spending was revised at 0.7 percent growth from a previous estimate of 0.4 percent. Exports rose 3.6 percent quarter-to-quarter, a figure revised from a previously reported 3.1 percent.

Imports growth was also revised. The final report puts import growth at 1.4 percent, down from 1.9 percent.

Pending Home Sales Down A Touch

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (UPI) — Pending U.S. home sales fell in August for the second consecutive month after two months of gains, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday.

The Pending Home Sales Index, measuring contracts that will likely close in October, fell 1.2 percent to 88.6, the trade group said.

Region by region, the index dropped 5.8 percent in the Northeast and 3.7 percent in the Midwest. In the South, the index rose 2.6 percent. In the West, the index fell 2.4 percent.

Each regional index, however, is higher than a year earlier. From August 2010, the index has risen 1.3 percent in the Northeast, 8.2 percent in the Midwest, 7.6 percent in the South and 10.5 percent in the West.

“The biggest monthly decline was in the Northeast, which was significantly disrupted by Hurricane Irene in the closing weekend of August,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

Yun also said the overall pattern includes restrictive lending.

“Financially qualified home buyers, willing to stay well within their means, are being denied credit — a factor (seen) in elevated levels of contract failures,” Yun said.

“We should be seeing existing-home sales closer to 5.5 million, but are expecting just over 4.9 million this year. The unnecessarily restrictive mortgage underwriting standards are attenuating the housing recovery and are a risk factor for the overall economy,” Yun said in a statement.

Gambler Sues Casino Over Losses

LAS VEGAS, Sept. 29 (UPI) — A gambler allegedly down $1.3 million to a Las Vegas casino is suing the casino, Wynn Las Vegas, for allowing him to lose more than $250,000, court paper say.

Konstantin Zoggolis from Germany is suing under the premise that he had a prior agreement with Wynn Las Vegas to limit his credit to a quarter of a million dollars, the Las Vegas Sun reported Thursday.

The lawsuit claims Wynn Las Vegas, which would not comment on the case, has asked the Justice Department to pursue the matter on grounds of Zoggolis passing bad checks.

The lawsuit also said, “If criminal proceedings are commenced against plaintiff at the direction of defendant in an effort to collect invalid debts, plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm before a decision on the merits can be rendered.”

Zoggolis is seeking an injunction to block the casino from pursuing the matter in the courts.

The suit says Zoggolis made arrangements with the casino in 2008 to limit his credit.

As such, “Plaintiff has an absolute right to reduce defendant’s demand by $1.05 million because defendant has not complied with its cross-obligation under the credit agreement to limit plaintiff’s credit line to $250,000,” papers filed in a federal court in Las Vegas say.

Governments Try To Calculate ‘Happiness’

LONDON, Sept. 28 (UPI) — Several governments say they are considering developing a way to calculate psychological well-being of citizens, a researcher in Britain says.

Charles Seaford, head of the Center for Well-being at the New Economics Foundation in London, said psychologists see happiness as “good functioning” or the meeting of psychological needs, an approach that emphasizes relationships, autonomy, competence and purpose. Economists use more abstract terms such as “utility,” Seaford said.

There is a movement among economists and other researchers to make the psychological well-being of citizens a major government priority, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Ideally, researchers told the journal Nature, they’d like to boil it all down into a single statistic that will resonate with voters — a sort of mental health equivalent of gross domestic product or the unemployment rate.

The commentary in Nature, said government officials in Britain, Germany, China, France, Australia, Ecuador, Italy, Spain and the United States were “taking steps to measure quality of life.”

Seaford and colleagues have begun gathering data on happiness in Britain. In April, the Office of National Statistics added four new questions to its Integrated Household Survey to assess “how satisfied people are with their lives; how happy they were yesterday; how anxious they were yesterday; and how worthwhile they think the things they do are.”


Potatoes Are The Cheapest Source Of Potassium

SEATTLE, Sept. 28 (UPI) — White potatoes are the largest and most affordable source of potassium per serving of any vegetable or fruit, U.S. researchers said.

Dr. Adam Drewnowski and colleagues at the University of Washington — in a study funded by the industry group the U.S. Potato Board — merged nutrient composition data from the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Database for Dietary Studies with the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion national food prices database.

The researchers used food frequency of consumption data obtained from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Affordable Nutrition Index was the metric used to assess nutritional value per dollar for potatoes and for other vegetables.

Potatoes were the lowest-cost source of dietary potassium, a nutrient identified by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines as lacking in the American diet.

The high cost of meeting federal dietary guidelines for potassium, 4,700 milligram per person per day, presents a challenge for consumers and health professionals, but the cost of potassium-rich white potatoes was half that of most other vegetables, Drewnowski said.

“Potatoes deserve credit for contributing to higher diet quality and increasing vegetable consumption,” Drewnowski said in a statement.

Study: Internet Addiction Definition Passe

TEL AVIV, Israel, Sept. 28 (UPI) — The hours and hours many teens spend on the Internet daily can contribute to their healthy development, an Israeli researcher says.

Moshe Israelashvili of Tel Aviv University, graduate student Taejin Kim and colleague Dr. Gabriel Bukobza studied 278 teens, male and female, from schools throughout Israel.

The researchers found many teens were using the Internet as a tool for exploring questions of personal identity and successfully building their own future lives using what they discover on the Web.

“Facebook use is not in the same category as gambling or gaming,” Israelashvili said in a statement. “Researchers should redefine the characteristics of the disorder called ‘Internet addiction’ in adolescents.”

The researchers asked the teens to rate themselves in terms of Internet use, ego clarification and self-understanding, and how well they related to their peer group.

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescence, discovered there was a negative correlation between Internet overuse and the teens’ levels of ego development and clarity of self-perception — an indication that some Internet use is destructive and isolating while some is informative and serves a socializing function.

Psychiatrists classify an “Internet addict” as a person who spends more than 38 hours on the Internet every week, but it’s the quality, not the quantity that matters, Israelashvili said.

Although many teens who participated in the study met the psychiatric standard of Internet addiction, they were using the Internet as a tool to aid in their journey of self-discovery, the researcher said.

Study: Non-Parental Childcare Not Harmful

OSLO, Norway, Sept. 29 (UPI) — There is no evidence that early childcare or preschool is harmful for most children, researchers in Norway say.

Synnve Schjolberg, a specialist in clinical psychology at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said preschool children in Norway attend different types of childcare arrangements but most attend kindergarten.

The report is based on questionnaire data from parents of more than 60,000 children ages 18 months, in the period from 2001 to 2009.

Overall, the report shows neither language skills nor psychological function of most children vary with the type of childcare, their age when starting in childcare outside the home, whether they used a combination of childcare arrangements or just one type, or how many hours per week they were in childcare.

“For most children there is no evidence from our findings to suggest that it is harmful to begin in center-based childcare at 12 months,” Schjolberg said in a statement. “The small effect sizes of the findings indicate that the differences between children attending childcare at an early age and those starting later have no clinical implications for most children. Neither do the findings suggest that most children who are cared for at home up to 18 months of age are better prepared than children cared for by others in the same period.”

Half In Battered Women’s Shelters Are Kids

MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 29 (UPI) — More than half of the residents of U.S. battered women’s shelters are children, researchers in Minnesota say.

Jeffrey Edleson, professor of social work at the University of Minnesota, said an online training program aims to elevate children’s voices, so service providers may better understand and respond to the children and families they serve.

The project, Honor Our Voices (, was created by the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse and the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota. It presents information on child exposure to domestic violence.

“This learning experience is informed by some of the best practitioners and researchers in the field,” Edleson said in a statement. “With information gained from this site, professionals will be able to better respond to the needs of these children and it is freely available for those professionals working on the front lines to complete at their own pace while sitting at their desk or at home.”

The Honor Our Voices site is scheduled to be operational the first week of October and Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Another Satellite To Fall In November

BERLIN, Sept. 28 (UPI) — Another dead, drifting satellite will fall to Earth in November, following the U.S. satellite that showered pieces over the Pacific Ocean Saturday, experts say.

Officials at the German Aerospace Center say a decommissioned X-ray space observatory should enter the atmosphere sometime in early November, but exactly when and where debris from the satellite will land cannot be determined yet, reported.

The 2.4-ton ROSAT satellite is in an orbit that swings between 53 degree of latitude north and south, so any debris surviving its re-entry could land anywhere in a huge area of the Earth, officials said.

The dead satellite is being tracked, but any prediction about the exact time and place of its fall will remain uncertain until roughly 2 hours before it hits Earth, they said.

“It is not possible to accurately predict ROSAT’s re-entry,” Heiner Klinkrad, head of the Space Debris Office at the European Space Agency, said. “The uncertainty will decrease as the moment of re-entry approaches.”

However, he said, it would be possible to rule out certain geographical regions from the potential impact area about a day in advance.

Gold Can Make Glass More Transparent

LONDON, Sept. 28 (UPI) — British researchers say they’ve discovered a way to make glass even more transparent by coating it in a thin layer of gold.

Scientists are King’s College London say the thin gold layer allows more light to be transmitted through the glass at more angles while reducing the amount that is reflected back, a KCL release said Wednesday.

This could improve viewing of flat-screen televisions or the light-emitting diodes in watches and alarm clocks, which presently have narrow viewing angles and must be seen head-on for the best view, researchers said.

In present devices light is generated from within a layer of active material inside glass then trapped within that layer, which means it cannot be viewed at other angles other than almost face on.

In the new technique, by applying a very thin layer of gold over the glass and controlling the thickness of the thinnest part of the layer the interaction of light and electrons in the glass can be engineered on the nanoscale to increase the transmission of light through the glass.

This results in light passing through the glass even when not viewed straight on, and at a greater intensity, the researchers said.

Image Of Dying ‘Hypergiant’ Star Captured

MUNICH, Germany, Sept. 28 (UPI) — European astronomers have released a new image of a hypergiant star, a monster star with a diameter a thousand times bigger than the sun.

At about 13,000 light years from Earth, it is the closest yellow hypergiant yet observed and new data show it shines about 500,000 times more brightly than the sun, a release from the European Southern Observatory said Wednesday.

“This object was known to glow brightly in the infrared but, surprisingly, nobody had identified it as a yellow hypergiant before,” ESO astronomer Eric Lagadec said.

Dubbed the Fried Egg Nebula for the surrounding ring of gas the star has thrown off, scientists said it is likely near the end of its life and will die a violent death as a supernova explosion.

The star has already ejected four times the mass of the sun in just a few hundred years, they said.

Competing Quake Predictions Analyzed

DAVIS, Calif., Sept. 28 (UPI) — A competition held by the Southern California Earthquake Center could mean better earthquake forecasts and improve tools for assessing them, officials said.

In a study, researchers at the University of California, Davis, compared seven different earthquake forecasts — including their own — that were submitted in the competition launched in 2005 by the SCEC, headquartered at the University of Southern California.

Teams were required to forecast the probability of an earthquake of magnitude 4.95 or greater, from Jan. 1, 2006, to Dec. 31, 2010, in almost 8,000 grid squares covering California and bordering areas, a UC Davis release said Wendesday.

Thirty-one earthquakes struck in 22 grid squares in the time period, the largest a magnitude 7.2 earthquake just south of the U.S.-Mexican border in April 2010.

All seven forecasts showed some utility in forecasting the locations of likely earthquakes, the researchers said, and the best forecasts were about 10 times better than a random forecast.

GOP Urges Caution In Clean Energy Race

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (UPI) — With billions of dollars of taxpayer money on the line, the U.S. Department of Energy shouldn’t rush out with more clean energy loans, a critic said.

Republican critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s green energy initiatives have drawn a bead on Energy Department loan guarantees to companies working on alternative energy projects. The department recently moved ahead with $1 billion in loan guarantees to two solar energy projects.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives started investigations after solar power company Solyndra, recipient of a $535 million Energy Department loan, declared bankruptcy.

U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of a House energy oversight subcommittee, in a statement, expressed concern over the pace at which the Energy Department was issuing new loan guarantees in the wake of the Solyndra debacle.

Stearns said he was worried that Washington was preparing to “rush out” with $5 billion in loans within the next two days.

“We cannot afford (the Energy Department) rushing out more Solyndras in these final hours,” he said in a statement.

As an economic powerhouse, Beijing is moving to include more renewable energy on the national grid. The country set a goal of increasing its solar power capacity significantly in five years.

European countries, meanwhile, have set environmental goals that far exceed those in the United States.

‘Raise My Taxes’ Plea Backed By Progressive Group

A California millionaire on Monday asked President Barack Obama to “please, raise my taxes” at a town-hall meeting. A progressive group, The Agenda Project, has now taken credit for his remarks.

As Obama told the group about the collective benefits of his new jobs proposal and the positive effect he believes the “Buffet” rule will have on the country, Doug Edwards — self-proclaimed retired millionaire — asked the President to raise the taxes of wealthy Americans.

“Will you please raise my taxes?” the man said. “It kills me to see Congress not supporting the expiration of the tax cuts that have been benefiting so many of us for so long.”

A group of wealthy Americans has joined forces with the Agenda Project as an offshoot organization called Patriotic Millionaires. Erica Payne heads up the group.

“Doug and his fellow Patriotic Millionaires are pounding Washington leaders to do the right thing for the country,” she said on Monday, according to The Hill.

The Agenda Project pushes a number of progressive agendas and paints conservatives as hypocrites. Earlier this month, the group blamed the Tea Party and “Constitutional conservatives” for failing to uphold Constitutional ideals.

“For too long, tea partiers and other so-called ‘constitutional conservatives’ have claimed our Constitution for themselves, all while distorting it and even advocating repeal of many of the progressive Amendments that have made it better,” a website linked to the group reads. “Don’t let self-proclaimed ‘constitutional conservatives’ march us backward to 1789.”