Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Theaters May Cut Movie Prices to Lure Customers Back

Theaters May Cut Movie Prices to Lure Customers Back

Theaters May Cut Movie Prices to Lure Customers Back

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 11:33 AM PDT

Year after year, more and more Americans are choosing not to go to the movies. Blame Netflix. Blame video games. Or maybe, blame ticket prices.

To counter that, theater owners are considering cutting ticket prices one day a week, for what seems to be the first time in the United States. A trade group representing theater owners is in early talks with theater chains and movie studios to implement a program that would allow for discount ticket prices on one yet-to-be-determined weekday, the Wall Street Journal reports. Details on the proposal, including when it would be implemented and how much tickets would be discounted, remain unclear.

On Tuesday, a report from the Motion Picture Association of America said that domestic movie box-office sales rose to $10.9 billion last year, from $10.8 billion in 2012, but that the increase was due to higher ticket prices, not increased attendance. In fact, the number of tickets sold slipped 1.5% to 1.34 billion from 1.36 billion in the past year. The average ticket price nationwide was $8.13 last year, up from $7.96 in 2012 (the average includes lower-priced matinee tickets).

Obama on Russia: ‘This Is Not Another Cold War’

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 11:33 AM PDT

President Barack Obama called on Europe and the United States to stand firm against Russia’s annexation of Crimea Wednesday, warning that a failure to push back against Russia’s “illegal” action would undermine a century of international progress.

Delivering remarks on the U.S.-European relationship at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Belgium on the third day of his international trip, Obama framed the Ukraine crisis as a conflict between self-determination and might. But he rejected the notion that recent events are the beginning of another global struggle.

“This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into,” he said in his 36-minute address. “After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology. The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia. In fact, for more than 60 years we have come together in NATO not to claim other lands but to keep nations free.”

“Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident, that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future,” he continued, emphasizing that there is no military solution to the situation in Crimea.

Obama acknowledged that both in Europe and the United States, many may doubt the impact of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but cautioned that “casual indifference” would send a dangerous message to the world.

“To be honest, if we define our interests narrowly, if we applied a coldhearted calculus, we might decide to look the other way,” Obama said. “But that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent.”

Over the course of his foreign trip, Obama has worked to marshal European allies to embrace the prospect of sanctioning the Russian economy if its government doesn’t change course — an action that could cost the global economy as well as Russia. Earlier Wednesday, Obama and European Union leaders met to discuss the potential for additional sanctions, with the EU pledging to move with the United States if Russia further escalates the situation in Ukraine.

Addressing Russia’s comparison of its move on Ukraine with U.S. actions in Iraq, Obama defended the United States’ handling of that war, saying that even though he did not support it, it was completely different.

“Even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system,” Obama said. “We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.”

Democrats Eye Political Wish-List of Votes

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 11:32 AM PDT

Senate Democrats said Wednesday that they’ll be introducing a wish-list of bills meant to bolster the party ahead of the midterm elections, with votes planned on legislation to increase the minimum wage, lower the burden of student debt, make child care more affordable, and strengthen manufacturing.

The measures have little chance of passing the Senate and even less in the Republican-controlled House, but party leaders see them as important political messaging as they seek to keep control of the Senate. Senate Democratic leaders said their agenda, entitled “Fair Shot” after a phrased used by Democrats to drum up support for President Barack Obama since his first presidential campaign, will start with votes as early as next week.

"These are not just Democratic agenda items—this is an agenda for the middle class, policies that will help ensure a fair shot for everyone," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "Republicans here in Washington may not agree with us on all of these issues, but I hope that in the months ahead they will listen to their constituents and work with us to get things done for the middle class."

Republicans did not take the bait. While senior Senate Democrats—Reid, Dick Durbin (Ill.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Patty Murray (Wash.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.)—held a news conference in the Capitol, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) took to the chamber floor to rip the forthcoming bills as political, election-year documents.

“They’ve given up,” Cornyn said. “They’ve given up legislating and are going to spend the next several months holding a series of show votes, which are in essence those designed to highlight poll-tested messages.”

“It’s politics, isn’t it?” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told TIME. “I think people back home are very concerned about jobs. If the Democrats want to pass something that’s going to cost the country—according to CBO, 500,000 jobs—then we win,” added Chambliss. Democrats, citing the same Congressional Budget Office report, say that raising the minimum wage would lift 900,000 out of poverty (out of the roughly 45 million projected to be below the poverty threshold in 2016) and increase the incomes of 16.5 million low-wage workers.

The Senate Democrats’ agenda will be closely choreographed with the the White House, which abhors the thought of a Republican House and Senate during Obama’s last two years in office. Reid will plan votes to coincide with awareness-raising presidential trips, according to the New York Times, which first reported on “Fair Shot,” and use the presidential bully pulpit to support the bills. The White House released a new report Wednesday focusing on how raising the minimum wage will benefit women.

"I don't think we'll ever overcome the Republican attacks on Obamacare, but I think we can mute it greatly," Schumer told the Times.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats this November to take the majority, and are in little danger of losing their House majority. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report marks five seats held by Senate Democrats as a “toss-up”—in Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina—and three seats as “lean” or “likely” Republican—in Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota. The only two “toss-up” seats for Republicans are held by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the retiring Chambliss.

Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” Video Without Music Is Completely Creepy

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 11:30 AM PDT

Picture it: You’re a woman walking alone down a darkened city street when a man emerges from the shadows and shouts, “HEY!” As his voice echoes harshly through the night, you walk faster and faster. He follows you, ominously close, and then he starts to …dance.

That’s the storyline in Michael Jackson’s video for “The Way You Make Me Feel,” but it’s hard to notice how starkly terrifying the scene is because the upbeat pop music masks the sinister undertone.

In the latest installment of YouTube series Musicless Musicvideo, the music is removed from the video and the creepy scenario springs to life. Watch, but be warned–you will never view this video the same way again.

[via Dangerous Minds]

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Syria’s Assad Prepares for Sham Elections Despite Endless War

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 11:13 AM PDT

For the past forty years, voting in Syria has been a pretty straightforward process. In 2007, the most recent presidential poll, the ballot asked one simple question: Should Bashar Assad stay in power for another seven-year term? Voters could check a green circle marked yes, or a red circle marked no. In at least one polling station in Damascus (though anecdotal evidence points to a wider distribution) election officials even made the act of checking optional. Instead, they offered a stack of forms pre-marked in Assad's favor. Anyone who wanted to vote against him simply had to ask for an unmarked ballot—in front of an array of police officers and intelligence agents. "Not once in the whole day did I see someone vote against Assad," says Siraj, a 28-year-old Syrian military defector now living in Beirut, Lebanon, who was helping his father run the local polling site that day by passing out ballot papers. "If you asked for an unmarked ballot, all eyes would be on you."

In 2007, Assad won the referendum with 97.6 percent of the vote. With his second term drawing to a close on July 17, a new election is likely to be called in the coming weeks, though this time around it won't be a simple yes or no vote. Electoral reforms, voted in by parliament two years ago, now allow multiple candidates to run for president for the first since Assad's father took power 44 years ago. Few believe that it will make any difference at all. "I've seen how voting works in Syria," Siraj tells TIME, asking to go by one name to protect family still in Damascus. "Assad will win no matter how many names are on the ballot."

Not only are the upcoming elections likely to be meaningless in a country where three years of war have driven nearly half the population from their homes and taken an estimated 145,000 lives, they also threaten to undermine any chance of a political negotiation that might lead to peace. A presidential campaign with Assad in the running directly contravenes a UN-backed peace process based on the establishment of a transitional government leading to free and fair elections. "I very much doubt that a presidential election and another seven-year term for President Bashar Assad will put an end to the unbearable suffering of the Syrian people, stop the destruction of the country and re-establish harmony and mutual confidence in the region," U.N. peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told the U.N. General Assembly on March 14.

Assad has yet to formally announce his candidacy, coyly stating in various media appearances that it is up to the Syrian people to nominate him. But in government-controlled areas, election preparations are in full swing. In Homs city, rubble-strewn neighborhoods are being cleaned and plastered with posters of the President and banners pleading for him to run. In Damascus shopkeepers have painted their rolling shutters with the colors of the regime's flag while car processions waving flags and blaring music glorifying Assad make the rounds. Posters proclaiming that "Eyelids will not sleep until you elect the ophthalmologist,” in reference to Assad's pre-presidential career have sprouted in affluent areas (the phrase rhymes in Arabic). Yet for all the election fanfare, and the fact that Parliament has cleared the way for competition, not a single opposing candidate has emerged. The risks are simply too high. Twenty-seven-year-old Damascus resident Hind doesn't expect to see any real candidates put their name forward. Anyone who runs against Assad, she says, via Skype, will be doing it just for appearances' sake, "to keep up the spectacle and make-believe."

Even if a serious contender were to emerge, stringent requirements make it all but impossible to enter the race. Candidates must win the support of 35 members of the pro-Assad Parliament, and they must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years, a stipulation that automatically knocks out even officially tolerated opposition members, all of whom have spent time in exile at one point or another over the past decade. Both parents must also be Syrian, and foreign spouses are not permitted. "I have not personally seen any candidates [come out], and I don’t think we will see any because the conditions are literally incapacitating," says Damascus resident Mazen, 24, reached by Skype. Neither Hind nor Mazen would allow their full names to be used, for fear of a backlash by Syrian security forces.

To opposition members leading the anti-Assad revolt from exile, the proposed elections, with all their hubris and constraints, are a charade. "The only unknown about this election is whether Bashar will get 97 or 98 percent of the vote," says Oubai Shahbandar, a senior adviser to the Syrian opposition, based in Washington D.C. What is clear, warns Shahbandar, is that if Assad does go through with his putative election, "he will be signaling the regime's unwillingness to go back to the negotiating table, and slamming the door shut on any chance of peaceful resolution for Syria."

—with reporting by Hania Mourtada / Beirut

Chicago Train Operator Admits She Fell Asleep Before Crash

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 11:07 AM PDT

The woman operating the Chicago commuter train that derailed and injured more than 30 people on Monday morning has admitted she fell asleep before the early accident and only woke up on impact, investigators said Wednesday.

“She did admit that she dozed off prior to entering the station,” Ted Turpin, a National Transportation Safety Board’s investigator, said during a briefing Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. “She did not awake until the train hit.”

The woman had only been a Chicago Transit Authority operator for two months before the crash, in which the train went airborne and hit an escalator at O’Hare International Airport, injuring at least 32 people and causing about $6 million worth of damage. Turpin said the operator, who name hasn’t been released, is cooperating with authorities and that Monday’s incident was not the first time she had fallen asleep on the job. She dozed off at the helm in February and caused a train to partially miss its stop, Turpin said.

Turpin added that her recent schedule was erratic and she would often fill in for colleagues. “Human factors” contribute to about 40 percent of train crashes, the Federal Railroad Administration estimated as recently as March 10, and fatigue often plays a role. The NTSB is investigating her training, work schedule and whether she has any prior infractions.


Charlotte, NC, Mayor Facing Corruption Charges

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 11:02 AM PDT

(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — The mayor of North Carolina’s largest city has been arrested on public corruption charges.

U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins said Wednesday that Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon is facing theft and bribery charges.

Tompkins says Cannon solicited and accepted bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as real estate developers who wanted to do business in Charlotte. A criminal complaint says Cannon is accused of soliciting and accepting more than $48,000 in cash, airline tickets, a hotel room and the use of a luxury apartment as bribes.

If convicted on all the charges, he faces 20 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines.

The 47-year-old Cannon was elected mayor in November, replacing Anthony Foxx. Foxx was named Transportation Secretary by President Barack Obama.

NASA Is Letting People Choose Its Next Uber-Techy Spacesuit

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 11:00 AM PDT

NASA is making space nerds’ dreams come true: They can vote on what the next spacesuit design will look like. (First Cosmos and now this? It’s space nerd Christmas!)

The Z-1 Spacesuit — named one of TIME’s best innovations of 2012, FYI — is upgrading to a Z-2, made with the help of 3D human laser scans and 3D-printed hardware. To fully engage its core audience, NASA is allowing its fans to pick which high tech design will be built. Here are the options, each with a subtly different theme:

1. Biomimicry

This suit is meant to look like the world’s oceans:


And to embrace the “bioluminescent qualities of aquatic creatures found at incredible depths,” it also glows in the dark:


2. Technology

This design uses Luminex wire and light-emitting patches:


3. Trends in Society

This is what NASA thinks a spacesuit would look like if it was ‘reflective of what every day clothes may look like in the not too distant future”:


And here’s the 2012 Z-1:


People can vote here.

Of course, like most awesome things on the Internet, there’s a bit of a catch. The spacesuit isn’t actually space friendly. According to the frequently asked questions section, it isn’t designed to fly in space because the outer layers doesn’t have the functionality of “micrometeroite, thermal and radiation protection.” This is a prototype used primarily for aesthetics. Womp womp.

Landslides May Be Inevitable, But They’re Not Yet Predictable

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 10:59 AM PDT

There was the rain. The tiny town of Oso in northwestern Washington state is used to wet weather—rain falls every other day on average—but the past few months have been positively biblical, with precipitation as much as 200% above normal. There was the geography: steep terrain composed of glacial sediment, which is a loose mix of sand, silt and boulders, the geological equivalent of a banana peel. And there was the history. Mudslides have hit the land around Oso numerous times over the past few decades, including as recently as 2006. There’s a reason that some residents used to call the area “Slide Hill.”

Yet when the earth gave way on the morning on the morning of Mar. 22, no one was ready for the scale of devastation. More than 15 million cu. yards (11.5 million cu. m), equivalent to three million dump truck loads, came tumbling down, burying nearly 50 homes in a hilly area 60 miles (97 km) northeast of Seattle. At least 16 people have died in the landslide, which covered more than a square mile (2.6 sq. km) and more than 170 people are listed as missing, even as hope of finding survivors dwindles. Even if the number of missing comes down, as officials have predicted, this will go down as one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history.

There was no shortage of warnings. As the Seattle Times reported earlier this week, a study by outside consultants had been filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 warning of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure” on the very hill that collapsed on Mar. 22. A 2000 study by the engineer and geomorphologist Tracy Drury warned that future landslides would take an increasing toll because “human development of the floodplain in this area has steadily increased.” Yet while local officials claimed that residents knew of the landslide risks, there’s little evidence that much was done to try to mitigate those risks. A 1,300 ft. (396 m) “crib wall” of boom logs anchored by 9,000 lb. (4,082 kg) concrete blocks every 50 ft. (15 m) was built after the 2006 landslide. But it was helpless against the landslide. “The place was set up to be unstable,” says David Montgomery, a geomorphologist at the University of Washington.

But despite all that, it’s not surprising that Oso wasn’t ready when the earth collapsed. Even though they kill more than 25 Americans and cause more than $2 billion in damages each year on average, landslides are the "underappreciated natural hazard," as Montgomery puts it. But as Andrew Freedman points out on Mashable, that’s in part because there’s no uniform, national monitoring system:

Instead, the USGS, working with the National Weather Service (NWS) and state and local agencies, has put together a "patchwork quilt" of monitoring and experimental warning programs, based upon rainfall and soil moisture and pressure measurements. One such program has been in place near Puget Sound, but did not cover the area where the March 22 landslide occurred.

This is despite the fact that landslides are the most geographically dispersed natural hazard—all 50 states face at least some mudslide risk. But the widespread nature of landslide risk is part of the reason why there is no uniform warning system, although the USGS has put together a national map that identifies high-risk zones. (Unsurprisingly, they tend to be mountainous regions like the Appalachians, the Rockies and the Pacific Coastal ranges.) While landslides as a whole are common, they occur only rarely at any given location—even places as inherently unstable as the hills above Oso can go decades between slides. And while decades of study—and a national network of radar stations—has enabled meteorologists to predict hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather with increasing precision, it is still incredibly difficult to identify when a landslide-prone hill will finally crumble. Heavy rainfall obviously plays a role, allowing water to infiltrate and loosen soil, but slides can also be triggered by earthquakes or erosion. “We can identify hazard zones, the places where you can expect a high probability of failure,” says Montgomery. “But it’s hard to say this slope will go on this particular day. We just don’t have enough data about the internal plumbing of the hillside.”

And it’s not just mountain towns that are at risk of landslides. Oregon state geologists have said that as much as 30% of metro Portland is in a high-risk zone for landslides, and a 2013 study by the University of Washington found that Seattle has some 8,000 buildings are at risk of an earthquake-induced landslide. Internationally, the danger is far greater: a 2o12 study in Geology estimated that rainfall-induced landslides alone—like the one near Oso—killed more than 32,000 people between 2004 and 2010, a massive toll, even though mudslides tend to get far less attention than earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes. Homes with a view come with danger attached, even if it’s one most people don’t know. Changing that fact might be the best way to ensure that the next major landslide is nowhere near as deadly.

Michigan Won’t Recognize Gay Marriages in Legal Limbo

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 10:57 AM PDT

Michigan will not recognize more than 300 same-sex marriages that took place over the weekend, Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday, a blow to couples who were married after a court overturned the state’s gay marriage ban but before an appeals court stayed that ruling.

Snyder acknowledged that the marriages, which took place on Saturday between the time the law was struck down and the federal appeals court stayed that decision, were legal at the time they were officiated. But, he said, they won't be recognized by the state until the appeals court rules on the lower court’s decision overturning the state's 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, a process that could take months.

“The couples with certificates of marriage from Michigan courthouses last Saturday were legally married and the marriage was valid when entered into,” Snyder said in a statement. “Because the stay brings Michigan law on this issue back into effect, the rights tied to these marriages are suspended until the stay is lifted or [the lower court's] decision is upheld on appeal."


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