Group Attacks University Of Tennessee For Praying Before Game

Praying before a game is a tradition in many football programs. But the University of Tennessee recently re-evaluated the process after a group complained.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, urging the school to stop the ritual. The letter cites surveys, court cases and even the Sermon on the Mount in an attempt to convince Cheek that praying before a game is unConstitutional.

Earlier in the year, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga started having a moment of silence before games, instead of a prayer. The FFRF wanted the University of Tennessee to volunteer to do the same.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation and author of the letter, said: “This is a public university, not a Christian club. It’s open to all comers and should be welcoming. When you’re not religious or are of another faith and you get prayed at during events, it’s really very grating. It’s a sock in the gut for you to go for a sporting event and then be told to conform to someone else’s religion.”

Presently, Tennessee officials have no intention of changing the ritual.

Ann Romney To GOP Critics: ‘Stop It’

CLIVE, Iowa, (UPI) —  Republicans who are criticizing Mitt Romney should “stop it” and realize “how lucky we are” he is the presidential nominee, Ann Romney told an Iowa interviewer.

Speaking Thursday on Radio Iowa — a statewide radio news network — Ann Romney was asked about criticism from high-profile Republicans and conservatives, who have called her husband out this week for his comments at a Florida fundraiser in May.

Mitt Romney was caught on a hidden camera saying 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement — and the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.”

The nominee’s critics have included several GOP nominees in U.S. Senate races.

“Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring,” Ann Romney said when asked about the criticism. “This is hard and, you know, it’s an important thing that we’re doing right now and it’s an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.”

She had spoken earlier Thursday to about 200 people at a campaign rally in Iowa, where her husband was proclaimed winner of the Iowa Caucuses by 10 votes over former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, although the final result was unclear.

“Wow, back in Iowa. Here we are again,” she said, to cheers and applause. “However, I don’t want it to be a 10-vote margin again. I want to have a bigger win, so let’s make sure in Iowa we win big in November.”

U.S. On-The-Job Deaths Lower In 2011

WASHINGTON, (UPI) —  The number of work-related fatalities in the United States fell in 2011 from 2010, the Labor Department said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said 4,609 workers died from “occupational injuries” in 2011, a decrease from 4,690 workplace deaths in 2010.  The number is considered a preliminary total, the bureau said.

Using current data, the rate of fatalities at work was 3.5 per 100,000 full-time workers, an improvement over the 2010 rate of 3.6 per 100,000.

In a report released Thursday, the bureau said fatalities in private construction declined from 774 in 2010 to 721 in 2011.

Construction worker deaths have dropped nearly 42 percent since 2006, the bureau said.

Fatalities were down 10 percent year-to-year in the mining industry.

The most dangerous job in terms of the number of deaths is driving, with private truck transportation work fatalities up 14 percent year-to-year, the second consecutive year of increases. Overall, two out of every five fatalities at work involved transportation incidents, with 1,898 incidents reported — 1,075 of them traffic accidents — the bureau said.

In addition, 780 workers died at work due to violence — including suicide, which accounted for 242 worker deaths in 2011.

Among the violent deaths, most involved shootings, although 37 involved animal- or insect-related injuries.

Falls, slips or trips accounted for 666 worker deaths in 2011.

The report uses a new incident reporting system that includes data on the height of falls that resulted in worker deaths. One fourth of the falls were from less than 10 feet high, while another quarter were from heights of over 30 feet, the bureau said.

Crude Oil Moves Back Above $93 A Barrel

NEW YORK,  (UPI) —  Crude oil prices turned higher Friday morning, topping $93 per barrel as equities rose in Asia and Europe.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil for October delivery has had an up and down week, making a run toward $100 per barrel Monday, then sliding to less than $93 Thursday.

In the latest correction on the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil added 88 cents to $93.30 per barrel.

Natural gas added 7.1 cents to $2.868 per million British thermal units. Home heating oil gained 1.86 cents to $3.1116 per gallon. Reformulated blendstock gasoline added 3.01 cents to $2.812 per gallon.

At the pump, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $3.833 per gallon, down from Thursday’s $3.846, AAA reported.

Bank Of America To Cut 16,000 Jobs

CHARLOTTE, N.C., (UPI) —  U.S. financial giant Bank of America has plans to cut 16,000 jobs by the end of the year in an effort to become a sleeker company, an in-house document says.

The document sent to top managers at the bank indicate that BofA is ready to give up its bragging rights as the country’s largest financial company in terms of the number of employees.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that BofA would end the year with 260,000 employees, which would mean JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo would each have more people on their payrolls.

BofA plans to cut back on its mortgage business in favor of the investment business it purchased when it bought Merrill Lynch in January 2009 during the financial system meltdown.

BofA has already sold off several businesses under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan, who has broken away from the bank’s previous track record of expansion.

1,230 Madoff Victims To Receive Checks

NEW YORK, (UPI) —  The trustee handling the case of New York Ponzi scheme operator Bernard Madoff said he mailed $2.5 billion in checks to 1,230 victims this week.

Convicted swindler Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence in a federal prison in North Carolina. With $17.3 billion in losses, the fraud that lasted for more than a decade is often reported to be the largest in history.

Court-appointed trustee Irving Picard said he sent checks averaging $2 million to some of the victims in the scheme.

The smallest check in the batch is for $1,784, while the largest is for $526.8 million, Picard said.

With this week’s distribution of funds, Picard has sent out $3.6 billion to victims, CNNMoney reported Thursday.

He has recovered a total of $9.15 billion.

With the latest payment, 182 more victims will have recovered their losses in full, bringing the total number of closed claims to 1,074.

Another 1,048 claims remain open.

First-Time Jobless Claims Drop By 3,000

WASHINGTON, (UPI) —  The U.S. Labor Department Thursday said first-time jobless benefits claims fell by 3,000 in the week ending Saturday.

Initial unemployment benefits claims for the week came to 382,000, down from the revised figure of 385,000 for the previous week.

The four-week rolling average was 377,750, up 2,000 from the previous week’s revised average of 375,750.

The advance number of unadjusted actual first-time jobless benefits claims under state programs totaled 327,797 for the week, an increase of 28,068 from the previous week, the Labor Department said.

There were 353,820 initial benefits claims in the comparable week in 2011, the department’s Employment and Training Administration said in a release.

Exercise May Reduce Anxiety

COLLEGE PARK, Md., (UPI) —  Moderate exercise may help people cope with anxiety and stress for an extended period of time after the workout, U.S. researcher say.

J. Carson Smith of the University of Maryland School of Public Health compared how moderate intensity cycling versus a period of quiet rest — both for 30 minutes — affected anxiety levels in a group of healthy college students.

Smith and colleagues assessed their anxiety state before the period of activity or rest, 15 minutes after and after exposing them to a variety of highly arousing pleasant and unpleasant photographs, as well as neutral images.

At each point, study participants answered 20 questions from the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, which is designed to assess different symptoms of anxiety.

The study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found exercise and quiet rest were equally effective at reducing anxiety levels initially. However, once they were emotionally stimulated by being shown 90 photographs used in emotion research for about 20 minutes, the anxiety levels of those who rested went back up to their initial levels, while those who had exercised maintained their reduced anxiety levels, the study said.

“We found that exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure,” Smith said in a statement. “If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events.”

Door-To-Door Inspections Reduce NYC Rats

NEW YORK, (UPI) —  A new rat control program in New York City reduced the percentage of properties with active rat signs by 54 percent over a 21-month period, officials say.

A report published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report said in 2007 the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene began its active surveillance program of about 36,000 privately owned properties with historically high rates of rat infestation.

Inspectors walked every block using handheld computers with maps to record fresh tracks, fresh droppings, active burrows, active runways and rub marks, fresh gnawing marks and live rats.

Inspectors recorded a severity score for each sign and also noted and recorded conditions conducive to rats including accessible garbage, poor containerization of food waste, or clutter and dense vegetation promoting the nesting of rats, the report said.

Owners with high scores were sent letters detailing the inspection and a rodent control educational guide with advice tailored to the problem. Property owners were given five to 10 business days to comply with the order and a compliance inspection was conducted.

Stress Linked To Heavier Teen Girls

LOS ANGELES, (UPI) —  Higher levels of stress predict greater body weight in black and white girls, but it may have a larger impact on black girls, U.S. researchers say.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama of the University of California, Los Angeles, said the prevalence of obesity in black populations is 50 percent higher than in whites, even in childhood and particularly in female adolescents.

Tomiyama and colleagues used data from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Growth and Health Study to assess the prevalence of obesity in 2,379 black and white girls beginning at age 10 and tracked for 10 years. They also analyzed psychological stress over the study period.

The study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, found more black girls were overweight or obese than white girls, who reported more stress than black girls, but levels of chronic stress predicted greater weight in both groups.

“Our study documents a relationship between chronic perceived stress and body mass index over a decade of growth in black and white girls,” Tomiyama said in a statement. “However, the relationship between perceived stress and BMI is stronger in black girls.”

Walking To A Beat May Help Some Patients

PITTSBURGH, (UPI) —  Walking to a beat could benefit patients needing rehabilitation, U.S. researchers say.

Ervin Sejdic, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, and colleagues studied effects of various metronomic stimuli — a mechanically produced beat — on 50 healthy adults ages 18-30.

The study subjects participated in two sessions consisting of five 15-minute trials in which they walked with different cues — auditory, visual and tactile.

In the first session participants walked at their preferred walking speed. Then, in subsequent trials, participants were asked to walk to a metronomic beat, produced by way of visuals, sound or touch. Finally, participants were asked to walk with all three cues simultaneously, the pace of which was set to that of the first trial.

“We found that the auditory cue had the greatest influence on human gait, while the visual cues had no significant effect whatsoever,” Sejdic said in a statement. “This finding could be particularly helpful for patients with Parkinson’s disease, for example, as auditory cues work very well in their rehabilitation.”

The findings were published in the journal PLOS One.

Kroger Recalls Fresh Spinach In 15 States

CINCINNATI, (UPI) —  The Kroger Co. Family of Stores says it is recalling packages of fresh spinach in 15 U.S. states because they may contain Listeria.

Kroger is asking customers to carefully check their refrigerators for Fresh Selections Tender Spinach in 10-ounce packages with a “best if used by” date of Sept. 16 and a UPC: 0001111091649.

Any opened or unopened products included in this recall should not be consumed and should be returned by customers to their local Kroger store for a full refund or replacement, store officials said.

The product, supplied by NewStar Fresh Foods LLC, is being recalled because the product might contain Listeria monocytogenes. More information is at: www.kroger.com/recall.

Stores under the following names in 15 states are included in this recall:

— Kroger stores in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, central and eastern Tennessee and Michigan.

— Kroger, Jay C, Owen’s, Pay Less, Scott’s and Food 4 Less stores in Indiana, Illinois and eastern Missouri.

— Dillons, Baker’s and Gerbes stores in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

Stores the company operates under the following names are not included in this recall: Fry’s, Ralphs, Fred Meyer, QFC, Smith’s, King Soopers, City Market and Food 4 Less/Foods Co. in California.

Customers who might have purchased the affected products will receive register receipt messages and/or automated phone calls.

Listeria, if eaten, could result in severe illness in pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.

The ‘Tree That Built America’ Harvested

NEWCOMB, N.Y., (UPI) —  University researchers in New York say they are harvesting 16 acres in a school research forest of white pine, often called “the tree that built America.”

The harvest in Huntington Wildlife Forest in Newcomb belonging to SUNY College of Environmental Science is part of a research and demonstration project to help restore the economically valuable tree, a SUNY release reported Thursday.

White pine has significant historical importance in the United States, the researchers said.

Not only did the British treasure the tall, straight trees for ship masts but nearly every early structure in the New World was constructed with white pine.

“Every time I go in that stand of white pine I get chills because it’s such a beautiful place,” resource management Professor Rene Germain said.

“When you walk in there you think you’re in an old-growth stand of trees, but they’re not old growth — not even close. They’re not even a hundred years old. It’s because they’re growing on such good soil.”

The white pine plantation at Huntington, planted in 1916, is being harvested now because the trees are economically mature and the stand is ready to regenerate, researchers said.

They said they hope to support the restoration of white pine in New York state by demonstrating how well it can grow when planted and well maintained in high quality soil.

“Believe it or not, we are in danger of losing white pine as a cover type in the state,” Germain said. “Currently, it represents less than 5 percent of the state’s forest cover, while in the 1970s white pine represented about 10 percent of the state’s forest cover.”

China: No Date Yet For Moon Landing

TIANJIN, China, (UPI) —  China hasn’t finalized a timetable for its manned moon landing program, a senior scientist working on the country’s lunar orbiter project said.

“Putting a man on the moon involves a very complicated systematic program with many technical challenges to solve, including those related to conducting space walks, docking, staying on the moon and returning,” Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist for the lunar orbiter project, said Wednesday at a scientific conference in north China’s city of Tianjin.

China’s lunar plans include unmanned moon exploration, a manned moon landing and the building of a moon base but no timetable is in place, he said.

“China won’t carry out a manned moon landing until it masters all of [the] crucial technologies,” he said.

China has launched two lunar orbiters, Chang’e-1 in 2007 and Chang’e-2 in 2010, to gather scientific data and make high-resolution maps of the moon, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

China plans to send a third probe, the Chang’e-3, to the moon in 2013 and retrieve it in 2017 with samples of the moon’s surface, Ouyang said.

Chevron Declares Gas Find In Australia

SAN RAMON, Calif., (UPI) —  A natural gas discovery off the coast of Australia could support Chevron’s ambitions to become a global LNG leader, a company executive said.

Chevron Corp. announced it discovered about 128 feet of net gas pay at its Satyr-2 well in the Carnarvon Basin off the coast of Western Australia.

Melody Meyer, president of Chevron’s exploration company working in the Asia Pacific region, said in a statement that the discovery showcases Australia’s position in the company’s portfolio.

“The continued exploration success in the Carnarvon Basin could help underpin expansion opportunities at our LNG projects in Australia and support our drive to become a leading supplier of liquefied natural gas to world markets and domestic gas to Western Australia,” she said.

Chevron in June signed a liquefied natural gas deal with Tokyo Electric Power Co. Tepco is to get 400,000 tons of liquefied natural gas a year from the company’s Wheatstone project in Australia, bringing its total uptake to 4.2 tons per year under the terms of a 20-year agreement.

The company said the discovery at Satyr-2 marks its 15th such discovery in Australia since 2009.

Sea Turtle Goes To Sea Instead Of Plate

TAMPA, Fla., (UPI) —  An endangered sea turtle that nearly ended up on a fisherman’s dinner table was released back into the wild, The Florida Aquarium said.

Susan Coy, a veterinary technician with the Tampa aquarium, said the fisherman caught the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle off Davis Islands in May and placed it in a freshwater tank in his home’s backyard with the intention of cooking and eating the endangered creature, The Tampa Tribune reported Thursday.

However, the man was reported to authorities by a neighbor and state Fish and Wildlife authorities brought the turtle to The Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation team.

Coy said the 15-pound turtle, dubbed Lucky, appeared lethargic and was not eating well when he was first brought to the facility.

“We basically just gave him a lot of (care),” she said.

Coy said the animal was rehabilitated and was released Wednesday at Cypress Point Park.

Authorities said the fisherman is likely to face federal charges for keeping a sea turtle.

Emoticon Celebrates 30th Birthday

PITTSBURGH, (UPI) —  The smiley face emoticon has marked the 30th anniversary of its creation by a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The collection of characters, which is designed to denote happiness or that a typewritten message was not meant seriously, turned 30 Wednesday, the anniversary of the day Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Scott Fahlman first posted it on an online bulletin board, the New York Daily News reported Thursday.

“If someone made a sarcastic remark, a few readers would fail to get the joke, and each of them would post a lengthy diatribe in response,” Fahlman said on Carnegie Mellon’s website.

“The problem caused some of us to suggest (only half seriously) that maybe it would be a good idea to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously,” he wrote. “In the midst of that discussion it occurred to me that the character sequence :-) would be an elegant solution … So I suggested that.”

Botched Painting Restorer Seeks Royalties

BORJA, Spain, (UPI) —  The Spanish octogenarian, whose botched restoration of a century-old fresco depicting Jesus became an online sensation, is now seeking royalties for her work.

The Spanish-language El Correo newspaper reported Cecilia Gimenez and her family are seeking royalties from the Santi Spiritus Hospital Foundation, which owns the Santuario de Misericordia Church in Borja and has been charging visitors to see the “restored” version of the “Ecce Mono” fresco.

The foundation made about $2,600 in four days from tourists seeking to catch an in-person glimpse of the painting, which online commentators have said looks more like a monkey than the Jesus it originally depicted, the Ars Technica website reported.

The church has retained lawyers to protect its revenues from Gimenez, El Correo said.

Judge Lets Cheerleaders Keep Bible Signs

KOUNTZE, Texas, (UPI) —  A Texas judge granted a temporary restraining order Thursday to allow high school cheerleaders to display faith-based signs at football games.

The Kountze High School cheerleaders sought the ruling after administrators of the Kountze Independent School District banned them from displaying signs and banners bearing scripture quotes at football games, the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise reported Thursday.

Kountze ISD Superintendent Kevin Weldon said the ban was imposed on the advice of the Texas Association of School Boards, which warned the school could face lawsuits if it allows the religious banners, the Houston Press reported.

Balloons With Camera Landed In Indiana

ROLLING PRAIRIE, Ind., (UPI) —  Police said they are trying to find the owners of a balloon-mounted camera launched from Chicago and discovered on an Indiana farm.

LaPorte County police said the camera, which was attached to two large, white helium balloons, was found Monday by Rolling Prairie farmer Robert Tibbs, 66, the Northwest Indiana Times reported Friday.

Detective Pat Cicero said the camera, which is about the size of a pack of cigarettes, contained images of Lake Michigan,  Soldier Field and Michigan City. He said the camera also had pictures of the two unidentified people who launched it from outside of a Chicago school.

“We’re trying to establish who these people are that did this,” Cicero told WBEZ-FM, Chicago. “We just want to return their stuff to them.”

Anti-American Sentiment Spreads To Asia

WASHINGTON, (UPI) —  Anti-American sentiment spread into Asia as the U.S. State Department warned Friday of possible demonstrations targeting its regional interests.

Violence erupted last week in Libya and elsewhere in response to a film produced in the United States that was denigrating to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and other staffers were killed in attacks that may have been tied to the film and U.S. President Barack Obama was broadcast on Pakistani television denouncing the video after protests there turned deadly.

The U.S. State Department released a series of advisories Friday warning of planned or anticipated demonstrations in front of diplomatic outposts across much of Asia, including China, Taiwan and as far west as Azerbaijan.

“Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence,” a message from the U.S. Consulate on Shamian Island in China stated.

Religious and U.N. leaders pleaded for calm after a French magazine exacerbated the situation by publishing a caricature of Muhammad.

A statement issued by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union affirmed the universal respect and tolerance for all religious beliefs and freedom of expression.

“Violence can have no place in our societies and offensive speech cannot be met with violent acts as it will only create a spiral of brutality from which we will all suffer,” the statement added. “Reason rather than rage must prevail.”

Last U.S. Surge Troops Leave Afghanistan

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, (UPI) —  The last of 33,000 U.S. soldiers sent to Afghanistan in a troop surge to battle the Taliban insurgency have been withdrawn, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

“As we reflect on this moment, it is an opportunity to recognize that the surge accomplished its objectives of reversing Taliban momentum on the battlefield, and dramatically increased the size and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces,” Panetta said in a statement while visiting New Zealand.

The departure of the last surge troops brings the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 68,000, officials said.

President Barack Obama announced the troop surge in a nationally televised address Dec. 1, 2009, before 4,000 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

He said the resurgence of the Taliban Islamist militant movement in Afghanistan and the continued existence of al-Qaida across the border in Pakistan — what he called a “cancer” on the region — were direct threats to the United States.

But he vowed to start bringing U.S. forces home in the middle of 2011, saying the United States could not afford and should not have to shoulder an open-ended commitment.

Surge troops came largely from the U.S. Army’s highly decorated 101st Airborne Division, known as the Screaming Eagles, an infantry division trained for air assault operations.

Fifty-seven percent of the almost 2,000 U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan have occurred since the surge began in January 2010, ABC News reported.

Some 10,000 troops returned from Afghanistan by July 2011, while the drawdown of the remaining 23,000 ended this month, Panetta’s statement said.

Panetta said the surge “struck enormous blows against al-Qaida’s leadership, consistent with our core goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida and denying it a safe haven.”

Panetta added, “It is important to underscore that even as our surge troops return home, there are roughly 68,000 Americans who remain in a tough fight in Afghanistan, alongside their NATO and Afghan partners.

“We are a nation at war,” he said. “But the international community is also strongly united behind our shared strategy to transition to Afghan security control, which will be completed by the end of 2014.”

NATO has agreed that all its combat troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.