; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Friday, June 03, 2011

Fortean / Alternative News: Giant Caterpillars Attack, 'Doctor Death' Dies and Police Kill Lawn Ornament

Giant Caterpillars Attack Crops and Villages

Villagers from the border region between Yogyakarta and East Java have reported being attacked by what can only be described as jumbo caterpillars.

Surono, a resident of Sambirejo village, Gunung Kidul district, told the Jakarta Globe on Friday that the unusually large caterpillars — covered in long hair which make them appear about the size of a child’s fist — began appearing about 10 days ago.

“Villagers were shocked and scared because these caterpillars looked really unusual,” he said. “It is a bit bigger than a regular caterpillar, but the hair is so thick it makes them look jumbo-size.” Surono said the caterpillars had initially only attacked nearby plantations, but over the past several days they had decimated other trees in the area and were also invading villagers’ homes.

Pest control officers, he said, had recommended pesticides be used to get rid of the caterpillars but villagers opted not to for fear of damaging crops. “These caterpillars also didn’t die easily with the spray,” he added.

Surono said the villagers had instead been killing the caterpillars by hand, shaking them off the branches of affected trees and burning them. “It’s almost under control now,” he said.

The official Web site of the district administration said a similar outbreak had previously attacked a hamlet in Ngeposari village, southeast of Yogyakarta.

An official from the province’s forestry and agricultural agency, Sugeng Widodo, said it had collected specimens to conduct lab research, but still had not turned up any information about the unusual creatures.

Since March, millions of hairy caterpillars have cropped up in at least five subdistricts in Probolinggo on East Java’s north coast, invading fields and homes.

Aside from giving residents itchy rashes, the caterpillars have also destroyed more than 8,800 mango trees — the district’s main agricultural product. - jakartaglobe


Jack Kevorkian, 'Doctor Death', Dies

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the controversial assisted suicide advocate, has died at a Detroit-area hospital at the age of 83.

Kevorkian's attorney and friend, Mayer Morganroth, told The Associated Press that he died early Friday morning at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, where Kevorkian had been hospitalized for kidney and respiratory problems.

"He says nurses played classical music by Kevorkian's favorite, Johann Sebastian Bach, before he died," the AP reports.

An official cause of Kevorkian's death is not yet known.

Kevorkian, a proponent of "right-to-die" legislation, earned the nickname "Doctor Death" after a string of assisted suicides in the 1990s.

He was released from a Michigan prison in 2007 after serving eight years of a 10 to 15-year sentence for second-degree murder. (Kevorkian was acquitted in three earlier trials; a fourth ended in a mistrial.)

In the 1999 case, Kevorkian administered a deadly combination of drugs to Thomas Youk, who was suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, the devastating neurodegenerative disease that can lead to paralysis. It was captured on video and broadcast on "60 Minutes."

"It's not necessarily murder," Kevorkian told Mike Wallace in an interview. "But it doesn't bother me what you call it. I know what it is."

Kevorkian, who was trained as medical pathologist but stripped of his medical license, admitted to being present in at least 130 suicides of terminally ill patients between 1990 and 1999. He also developed a suicide machine, which according to WIRED, was essentially an automated drip hooked up to an IV needle that patients could personally trigger.

Many groups and individuals were vehement in their opposition to Kevorkian and his views. In 1995, the American Medical Association called him a "reckless instrument of death" who "poses a great threat to the public," The New York Times reports.

But others hailed Kevorkian as a hero.

"I think that Dr. Kevorkian was a man who sought out humanity," said Frank Kavanaugh, a member of the board of directors of the Final Exit Network, a non-profit and right-to-die organization. "He was a very controversial figure, but I think even critics would agree that because of that, hospice care has really boomed in the United States."

Kevorkian's attorney told the Detroit Free Press that he was present at the time of his death, as was his niece.

"It was peaceful," he told the paper. "He didn't feel a thing."


Italian Seismologists Charged With Manslaughter for Not Predicting 2009 Quake

Italian government officials have accused the country's top seismologist of manslaughter, after failing to predict a natural disaster that struck Italy in 2009, a massive devastating earthquake that killed 308 people.

A shocked spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) likened the accusations to a witch hunt.

"It has a medieval flavor to it -- like witches are being put on trial," the stunned spokesman told FoxNews.com.

Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), will face trial along with six other scientists and technicians, after failing to predict the future and the impending disaster.

Earthquakes are, of course, nearly impossible to predict, seismologists say. In fact, according to the website for the USGS, no major quake has ever been predicted successfully.

"Neither the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake," reads a statement posted on the USGS website. "They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future."

John Vidale, a Washington State seismologist and professor at the University of Washington, agreed that earthquake forecasting is simply impossible.

"We're not able to predict earthquakes very well at all," he told LiveScience.

"One problem is, we don't know how much stress it takes to break a fault," Vidale told the site. "Second we still don't know how much stress is down there. All we can do is measure how the ground is deforming."

Not knowing either of these factors makes it pretty tough to figure out when stresses will get to the point of a rupture, and an earth-shaking quake, LiveScience explained.

The seven scientists were placed under investigation almost a year ago, according to a news story on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) -- the world's largest general-science society and a leading voice for the interests of scientists worldwide.

Alan Leschner, chief executive of AAAS, said his group wrote a letter to the Italian government last year -- clearly, to no avail.

"Whoever made these accusations misunderstands the nature of science, the nature of the discipline and how difficult it is to predict anything with the surety they expect," Leschner told FoxNews.com.

The case could have a "chilling effect" on scientists, he noted.

"It reflects a lack of understanding about what science can and can't do," he said. "And frankly, it will have an effect of intimidating scientists ... This just feels like either scapegoating or an attempt to intimidate a community. This really seems inappropriate."

Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella said that the seven defendants had supplied "imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information," in a press conference following a meeting held by the committee 6 days before the quake, reported the Italian daily Corriere della Sera

In doing so, they "thwarted the activities designed to protect the public," the judge said.

Boschi's lawyer, Marcello Melandri, has been taking the news badly, reported the AAAS story. He was particularly stunned because -- despite of the near impossibility of predicting earthquakes Boshi had been indicating that a large earthquake would be coming, though he did not say when.

Melandri told the AAAS that Boschi never sought to reassure the population of L'Aquila that there was no threat. On the contrary, the INGV head made it clear that "at some point it is probable that there will be a big earthquake."

In addition to Boschi, those facing trial are:

* Franco Barberi, committee vice president;
* Bernardo De Bernardinis, at the time vice president of Italy's Civil Protection Department and now president of the country's Institute for Environmental Protection and Research;
* Giulio Selvaggi, director of the National Earthquake Center;
* Gian Michele Calvi, director of the European Center for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering;
* Claudio Eva, an earth scientist at the University of Genoa; and
* Mauro Dolce, director of the office of seismic risk at the Civil Protection Department. - foxnews


Kansas City Police Kill Lawn Ornament

Police responding to a rare alligator sighting in suburban Kansas City took quick action to dispatch of the beast, shooting it in the head, as instructed, while it lurked menacingly in the weeds leading down to a pond.

It wasn't until a second rifle shot bounced off the reptile's head that the officers realized they had mortally wounded a concrete lawn ornament.

A resident of a subdivision near the pond called police Saturday evening to report that his children spotted the alligator while they were playing in some nearby woods.

After consulting a conservation agent, who told them to kill the gator if they felt it posed a danger, one of the officers shot it twice in the head before realizing something was up, said Tom Gentry, an Independence police spokesman.

"It didn't move," Gentry said. "They inched up closer and closer and discovered it was a mock-up of a real alligator made to look like it was real."

In the officers' defense, it was growing dark when they shot the fake gator and it was partially submerged in the weeds.

The property owner told police that the gator was meant to keep people off his property, Gentry said. Officers told him a no-trespassing sign would have been wiser.

"Now he'll have to patch up his alligator," Gentry said.

Conservation agent Derek Cole said the department has received calls in the past about alligators that had been set free in populated areas, so there was no reason to believe the Saturday sighting wasn't valid.

"The department doesn't get involved in something like that," Cole said. "They asked if they could go ahead and dispatch it if it was a danger, and I said there's a kill shot on alligators, a small kill shot on the head. I said if they can get a shot like that, go ahead." - aol


Senators Want To Put People In Jail For Embedding YouTube Videos

Okay, this is just getting ridiculous. A few weeks back, we noted that Senators Amy Klobuchar, John Cornyn and Christopher Coons had proposed a new bill that was designed to make "streaming" infringing material a felony. At the time, the actual text of the bill wasn't available, but we assumed, naturally, that it would just extend "public performance" rights to section 506a of the Copyright Act.

Supporters of this bill claim that all it's really doing is harmonizing US copyright law's civil and criminal sections. After all, the rights afforded under copyright law in civil cases cover a list of rights: reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works or perform the work. The rules for criminal infringement only cover reproducing and distributing -- but not performing. So, supporters claim, all this does is "harmonize" copyright law and bring the criminal side into line with the civil side by adding "performance rights" to the list of things.

If only it were that simple. But, of course, it's not. First of all, despite claims to the contrary, there's a damn good reason why Congress did not include performance rights as a criminal/felony issue: because who would have thought that it would be a criminal act to perform a work without permission? It could be infringing, but that can be covered by a fine. When we suddenly criminalize a performance, that raises all sorts of questionable issues.

Furthermore, as we suspected, in the full text of the bill, "performance" is not clearly defined. This is the really troubling part. Everyone keeps insisting that this is targeted towards "streaming" websites, but is streaming a "performance"? If so, how does embedding play into this? Is the site that hosts the content guilty of performing? What about the site that merely linked to and/or embedded the video (linking and embedding are technically effectively the same thing). Without clear definitions, we run into problems pretty quickly.

And it gets worse. Because rather than just (pointlessly) adding "performance" to the list, the bill tries to also define what constitutes a potential felony crime in these circumstances:

the offense consists of 10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works

So yeah. If you embed a YouTube video that turns out to be infringing, and more than 10 people view it because of your link... you could be facing five years in jail. This is, of course, ridiculous, and suggests (yet again) politicians who are regulating a technology they simply do not understand. Should it really be a criminal act to embed a YouTube video, even if you don't know it was infringing...? This could create a massive chilling effect to the very useful service YouTube provides in letting people embed videos. - techdirt