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Nathan Oelker

The Hunger Games: The Summer Camp

Hunger Games camp campers not allowed to be that violent

“I don’t want to kill you,” said Rylee Miller, 12.

“I will probably kill you first,” replied her friend Julianna Pettey, also 12.
Putting her hands on Rylee’s shoulders, she continued: “I might stab you.”

These words uttered by members of the 26 participants in Hunger Games-themed summer camp, held in Largo, Florida by the Country Day School:

But there’s no killing here: the campers instead run around the grounds collecting flags, which symbolize lives in a parentally driven attempt for political correctness.

Summer camp director, Jared D’Alessio, remembered plenty of debate and controversy when the “Hunger Games” idea came about, so that’s when all possible real violence was eliminated. Instead of even fake weapons, the players would be harmlessly pulling flag belts from each other’s waists.

Whoever gets the most flags wins, and the winning team is praised for their teamwork.

But of course, the camp counselors had to keep bringing the eager proto-Panemians down to earth when the tone became potentially too real.

“No! No violence this week,” the busy camp head counselor had to tell the children. However, preventing talk of murder proved difficult for the kids entranced by the central goal of The Hunger Games plot.

“What are we going to do first,” shouted Sidney Martenfield, 14. “Are we going to kill each other first?”

“If I have to die, I want to die by an arrow,” Joey Royals mused out loud. “Don’t kill me with a sword. I’d rather be shot.”

“But if you actually sit down and talk to them and they say, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ they don’t understand what they’re saying. Death for this age isn’t a final thing. It’s a reset.”

Susan Toler, a clinical psychologist specializing in children’s issues and an assistant dean at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, called the camp idea “unthinkable.” This is because when children read books or watch movies, they’re observers removed from the action.

“But when they start thinking and owning and adopting and assuming the roles, it becomes closer to them,” Toler said. “The violence becomes less egregarious.”

At any rate, next door to the Hunger Games camp is another camp where 24 kids played a computer game where they build structures to protect their lives from monsters. Therefore, as counselor Simon Bosés said, kids can fake-die in nearly any game these days.

Four Titles for Award Season

Pre-Oscar, Pre-Release Buzz is Here, Really Early

If you care about quality filmmaking—with aesthetics, character development and, oh yeah, a little thing called plot—September to December is the time to pay attention. The majority of Academy Award-winning and nominated films are released from September to December, so keep an eye out for these releases that aren’t likely to disappoint.

Rush – September 27

Go back to the sexy, champagne-soaked golden age of Formula 1 racing in the 1970s with this story of Austrian driver, Niki Lauda, the 1976 crash that almost claimed his life and his rivalry with the handsome English playboy James Hunt.

With a monosyllabic title that’s easily forgotten, the latest release from director Ron Howard is sure to be thrilling. Once again, Howard adds variety to his impressive oeuvre, and hopefully Rush does better than The Dilemma. But with a budget of only $38 million for this period piece vs. $70 million for Vince Vaughn, even with a lukewarm reception it’ll have an easier time reaching the black. Aside from Howard’s filmmaking prowess—and top talent from Chris Helmsworth, Olivia Wilde and Daniel Bruhl—the major strength of this movie will certainly be the entertaining escape provided from a topic little traveled in 2013.

The Fifth Estate – October 18

This character-based history of WikiLeaks, shown through the relationship between founder Julian Assange and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg, is a timely release to awaken zombified news absorbers to the truth.

It’s extremely easy to ramble with on-screen true stories, so the strength behind this film is the use of the relationship between Assange and Domscheit-Berg as the focus. It’s impossible to make an audience care when showing a story like this via largely objective overview (like Zero Dark Thirty) so having something more intimate to help centralize a large plot gives the audience something to care about. More top talent flocks to this film, including Benedict Cumberbatch—fresh from success in Star Trek Into Darkness—as Assange, and Daniel Bruhl—also in Rush—as Domscheit-Berg, so rest-assured the portrayals will be well-done. Cumberbatch’s Aussie accent from the trailer already entices the audience with chilling narration.

Helmed by director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, and, unfortunately, Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Parts 1 and 2), a filmmaker with a proven track record, the audience is guaranteed a valuable cinematic time capsule to remember the whistleblower era.

Saving Mr. Banks – December 13

In this latest movie about the making of a movie, “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers travels from to Hollywood as Walt Disney adapts her books for the big screen.

Tom Hanks plays Uncle Walt in the most interesting Hollywood royalty role since Anthony Hopkins hopped in the fat suit for Hitchcock. Emma Thompson plays Travers, who in order to protect the integrity of her creation, opposes everything that’s fun about the finished movie. In reality, as in the film, Travers tries to eliminate the animated sequences, the Academy Award-winning score by the Sherman brothers and more.

Directed by John Lee Hancock, who also helmed The Blind Side, it’s an extremely interesting story about the conflict and creativity that capped off Disney’s forty-year career—even if everyone will argue endlessly about Hanks’ portrayal.

With these three true stories to help kick off the pre-Award season, all audiences will be entertained, and educated in a thought-provoking way.

Bradley Manning verdict delivered

Manning acquitted of “aiding the enemy,” still faces other charges

Bradley Manning has been acquitted of aiding the enemy for disclosing secret documents to WikiLeaks.

Judge Col. Denise Lind found Manning not guilty of the most serious charges of aiding the enemy, but did find him guilty of violating the espionage act on multiple counts. Manning still faces up to 154 years in prison for the charges against him.

The argument that likely led to the acquittal was that if Manning intended to aid the enemy, he would have sold the information to them directly rather than to WikiLeaks.

Prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein argued earlier that Manning had shown “general evil intent” with his leaks. “He acted voluntarily and deliberately with his disclosures. He was not a whistleblower. He was a traitor,” Fein said.

The prosecution argued that the documents had a monetary value to foreign governments needing the intelligence. They valued the data leaked from an Afghanistan database at $1.3 million and data from an Iraq database at $1.9 million.

Some of the documents leaked by Manning suggest that US military officials in Iraq ignored evidence of abuse, torture, rape and murder by the Iraqi authorities. The documents also reveal how “hundreds” of civilians were killed at US military checkpoints after the invasion in 2003.

More US military records posted on the Wikileaks website dealt with the war in Afghanistan. They revealed unreported daily incidents of violence and criminality, including intimidation by the Taliban, corruption and drugs trade.

Manning is expected to be sentenced Wednesday. His supporters remain watching outside the court.

Teeth newly grown from human urine

“Tinkle Teeth” could become all the rage

Teeth have been grown by scientists from human urine.

Not just from pee on its own, but the results published in Cell Regeneration Journal showed how stem cells from urine have been used to grow rudimentary teeth, or tiny tooth-like structures, in a process developed by scientists from China.

It’s worth mentioning too, that stem cells from urine are much less controversial than their counterparts from human embryos.

The scientists at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health hope the technique could be used to replace teeth lost to age and poor dental hygiene.

Stem cells, being the unassigned cells that can grow into any type of tissue, are a popular area of research. The group used urine as a starting point, because cells normally passed from the body, namely those from the lining of its excretory system, are gathered in the laboratory. The cells collected are then coaxed into becoming stem cells.

A mix of these cells and other material from a mouse was implanted into the animals.

The scientists said that after three weeks the bundle of cells started to resemble a tooth, and contained dental pulp, dentin, enamel space and enamel organ.

However, the “teeth” were not as hard as natural teeth.

This piece of research won’t immediately lead to new dental options, but the researchers say it could lead to further studies towards “the final dream of total regeneration of human teeth for clinical therapy.”

The process faces many challenges: to start with, Prof. Chris Mason, a stem cell scientist at University College London, told the BBC that urine was a bad place to start.

“It is probably one of the worst sources, there are very few cells in the first place and the efficiency of turning them into stem cells is very low. You just wouldn’t do it in this way.”

“The big challenge here is the teeth have got a pulp with nerve and blood vessels which have to make sure they integrate to get permanent teeth,” Mason added.

Mason also warned that the risk of contamination, through bacteria for example, was much higher than with other sources of cells. Additionally, in its current form the practice only has a 30 percent success rate.

Bradley Manning to hear verdict in document leak

Either well-intentioned whistleblower or traitor status to be determined

Bradley Manning, the US solider who disclosed stacks of secret documents to the WikiLeaks website in the largest leak of classified information in US history, will hear Judge Col. Denise Lind’s court martial ruling at Fort McNair in Washington at 1:00pm Tuesday.

After spending three years in custody, this verdict will determine whether Manning is guilty of “aiding the enemy.” Manning has acknowledged leaking the documents but denies that most serious charge.

Manning has pleaded guilt to 10 lesser charge out of 22 total and faces life in prison if convicted. His 22 counts include aiding the enemy, unauthorized possession of intelligence material, theft and violations of computer regulations, and carry a sentence of up to 20 years behind bars.

Manning, an intelligence analyst, was arrested in Iraq in May 2010. He spent weeks in a cell at Camp Arifjan, a US Army base in Kuwait, before being returned to the US. The court martial opened in early June. During the trial, prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein argued that Manning systematically gathered hundreds of thousands of classified documents in order to offer them to anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks has never confirmed that Manning was the source for these documents, which cover numerous aspects of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, give a “ground view of events” from the Afghanistan war and reveal the inner workings of US State Department diplomacy.

Among the files sent to WikiLeaks was graphic footage of an Apache helicopter attack in 2007 that gunned down 12 people in Baghdad, including a photographer from Reuters. The documents also included 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and 250,000 secure state documents cables between Washington and embassies around the world.

The prosecution has also argued that the leaks harmed US national security and endangered American lives along with those of foreign intelligence and diplomatic sources. Maj. Fein asserted that some documents were delivered to Osama Bin Laden.

Manning’s defense lawyer, civilian David Coombs, has argued the young soldier is a well-intentioned whistleblower, naïve and disillusioned after his deployment to Iraq in 2009. Coombs also asserts that Manning acted without the “general evil intent” that would justify the charge of “aiding the enemy.”

For more than an hour during a pre-trial hearing in February when he entered his guilty pleas on the lesser charges, Manning said he had leaked the documents in order to spark a public debate about US foreign policy and the military.

Manning said the information he passed on “upset” or “disturbed” him, but there was nothing he thought would harm the United States after becoming public. Manning said he thought the documents were old and the situations they dealt with had changed or ended.

“I believed if the public was aware of the data, it would start a public debate of the wars,” he said during his court-martial.

Manning also said he was “depressed about the situation there,” meaning Iraq, where he was stationed as an intelligence analyst. He first tried to leak through The Washington Post, but a reporter there didn’t seem like she took him seriously, Manning said. He left a voicemail for the New York Times and sent an e-mail to the newspaper, but Manning says he didn’t hear back. So he decided on WikiLeaks.

After WikiLeaks published a mass of documents related to the Afghanistan war in 2010, the site became an international sensation, as did its chief and co-founder, Julian Assange.

“We call those types of people that are willing to risk…being a martyr for all the rest of us, we call those people heroes,” Assange told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “Bradley Manning is a hero.”

Assange described the case against Manning, specifically the aiding the enemy charge, as a serious attack against investigative journalism.

“It will be the end, essentially, of national security journalism in the United States,” he said on the eve of the verdict.

Buddhist monk gone berserk

Daily headlines of general excess follow

Wirapol Sukphol, a Buddhist monk from Thailand, is currently in the middle of the biggest religious scandal that the country’s seen in years. The accusations include everything that opposes a life vowing celibacy and simplicity: promiscuity, lavish excess, and alleged crimes of statutory rape and manslaughter.

Starting with a viral YouTube video in June, which shows the orange-robed Sukphol boarding a private jet with aviator sunglasses and Louis Vuitton carry-on, the monk has been the subject of scrutiny and hilarious headlines such as, “Now boarding, Air Nirvana.”

But the current matters are not as humor-filled. Thai authorities have issued an arrest warrant implicating Sukphol on three charges including statutory rape, embezzlement and online fraud to seek donations. He is also under investigation for money laundering, drug trafficking and manslaughter for a hit-and-run accident while driving a Volvo late at night three years ago.

The disgraced monk has also been defrocked in absentia.

Sukphol’s accumulated assets of an estimated 1 billion baht ($32 million) are pushing authorities to decipher how he gathered so much cash. Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering Office has discovered 41 bank accounts linked to the Sukphol, with several of the accounts keeping about 200 million baht ($6.4 million) in constant circulation, raising suspicion of money laundering.

There are ideas about where the money has gone though. During a spree from 2009 to 2011, Wirapol bought 22 Mercedes worth 95 million baht ($3.1 million) according to Thai authorities, and this group of 22 is only a fraction of the 70 vehicles he has purchased. Some have been gifted to senior monks, and others have been sold off in suspected black market deals used to launder money.

Luxury travel also includes helicopters and private jet trips between the northeast and Bangkok. According to Facebook comments by Piya Tregnalnon, one of Sukphol’s regular pilots, the monk always paid in cash for domestic roundtrips costing about 300,000 baht ($10,000) each.

More pictures have been posted online forums showing Sukphol riding a camel at the pyramids in Egypt and sitting in a cockpit at the Cessna Aircraft factory in Kansas. According to the investigation, Sukphol was interested in purchasing his own private jet.

More incriminating accusations consist of Sukphol’s multiple alleged relationships with women, acts that are cardinal sins for monks. The most serious was one with a 14-year-old girl a decade ago, which produced a son. The mother filed a statutory rape case against Sukphol two weeks ago.

Critics say Sukphol’s exploits are an extreme example of a wider problem in Buddhism, a faith marginalized by a shortage of monks in an increasingly secular society. The contemplative, simple lifestyle of monks offers few diversions for young Buddhists raised with the millennial pursuits of omnipresent technology and commerce. Cases of misconduct with monks in recent years have revolved around alcohol abuse or frolicking with women or men—all of which are forbidden—and last year, about 300 of Thailand’s 61,416 full-time monks were reprimanded and disrobed in several cases for violating vows, according to the Office of National Buddhism.

“Over the years there have been several cases of men who abused the robe, but never has a monk been implicated in so many crimes,” said Pong-in Intarakhao, the case’s chief investigator for the Department of Special Investigation, the Thai equivalent to the FBI. “We have never seem a case this widespread, where a monk has caused so much damage to so many people and to Thai society.”

For Sukphol’s escapades, investigators believe they have only scratched the surface. Sukphol was in France when the scandal came to light in June after leading a meditation retreat at a monastery near Provence. Sukphol is suspected of fleeing to the United States but his current whereabouts are unknown.

Robot designed to catch pedophiles created

Negobot poses as 14-year-old girl

Robots do many things to help humans, but due to efforts by Spanish researchers they now catch pedophiles in online chatrooms thanks to the Negobot.

The Negobot poses as a 14-year-old girl, and using artificial intelligence (AI) to realistically mimic the language of teenagers, strikes up conversations to catch pedophiles in online chatrooms.

Negobot, a “virtual Lolita” nicknamed for the eponymous main character of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, starts off with a neutral emotion, but will adopt any of seven personalities according to the variety and intensity of interactions.

Negobot uses advanced decision-making strategies known as “game theory” in order to simulate realistic dialogues as they develop. Other features include taking the lead in conversations and remembering specific facts about what had been discussed previously and with whom.

Even more convincingly, this Negobot, a “conversational agent” uses child-like language and slang, along with spelling mistakes and contradictions to draw in the predator further.

Negobot would be used in chatrooms that suspected pedophiles are thought to be using, beginning new chats as a somewhat passive speaker. A behavioral adaptation follows in response to the methods used by the suspect to win over its trust and friendship.

Negobot can also appear offended or get more insistent if it’s not drawn into a conversation. It will also respond to more aggressive advances—like requests for personal information—by trying to find out more about the suspect, including phone numbers and social media accounts.

For example, if the suspect does not appear to be enticed into having a conversation, Negobot can appear offended or get more insistent.

Negobot will also respond to more aggressive advances – like requests for personal information – by trying to find out more about the suspect. This can include details such as their social network profile and mobile number, information which can then be used by police to start an investigation.

The project’s team at the University of Deusto says the software demonstrates a significant technological advance. According to Dr. Carlos Laorden, “chatbots” of the past tended to be quite predictable, with flat interest and behavior in a conversation.

Laorden said that was, “a problem when attempting to detect untrustworthy targets like pedophiles.”

John Carr, a UK government adviser on child protection, was grateful for measures that could help ease the workload of real-world policing. However, Carr cautioned that the software risked drawing people in to take actions they would not do otherwise.

“Undercover operations are extremely resource-intensive and delicate things to do. It’s absolutely vital that you don’t cross a line into entrapment which will foil any potential prosecution,” Carr said.

To date, the Negobot has been field-tested on Google’s chat service and could be translated into other languages, already attracting the attention of the Basque police force.

Researchers admit though that Negobot still has limitations and will need to be monitored to prevent significant error. While it is has broad conversational abilities, it is not yet sophisticated enough to decipher specific figurative features such as irony.

Schlinder’s List for sale

And not just on DVD

Schindler’s actual list, the eponymous document from the Steven Spielberg-directed, Oscar-winning 1993 film, has been put up for sale on eBay.

Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who’s credited with saving hundreds of Jews from death during the Holocaust, had this list typed by his accountant Izhak Stern. The list is 14 pages on onion skin paper sold by Stern’s nephew to its current owner with a signed affidavit from that relative. The penciled date on the front page reads April 18, 1945. The names on the exalted lists are Jews who Schindler wanted saved from extermination by working in his factories during the war.

Schinder’s list up for auction is the only version of four existing that’s not held in a museum, and the only copy to ever hit the open market. Currently in Israel, the list is being sold by a collector with a reserve price tag of $3 million. However, according to the New York Post, California sellers Gary Zimet and Eric Gazin are hoping it will go as high as $5 million.

Gazin told the Post, “We decided to sell the list on eBay because it has over 100 million worldwide members, and this is a global story.”

If you’re interested in bidding on this piece of history, remember that potential purchasers have to qualify first. It is put up for bid by gazinauctions, which has garnered 98.8 percent positive feedback on eBay.

Would you want to buy it?

George Zimmerman’s acquittal receives mixed reactions

Division among racial and political lines

George Zimmerman’s trial has gathered a divided reaction among the American public split along racial and political lines, and also started a new dialogue about race.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, drawn from phone interviews from July 17-21 with 1,480 adults across the nation, 42 percent of respondents are not satisfied with Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last February. 39 percent said they are satisfied, and 19 had no opinion. But the demographic breakdown is more interesting.

The division with race
52 percent of respondents said race was getting too much attention in the trial’s aftermath, while 36 percent said the case was creating a needed dialogue about race.

The race of the respondents makes it interesting too: blacks are dissatisfied with the verdict by an overwhelming 86 to 5 percent margin, and 78 percent say it raises important questions about race. With whites: 49 percent are satisfied with the trial’s outcome, 30 percent are not satisfied, and 60 percent say that race is getting more attention than is necessary.

Political lines
Pew discovered that 61 percent of Republicans are satisfied with Zimmerman’s acquittal, as opposed to 22 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of Independents. Tea Party affiliates are 80 percent satisfied with the decision.

Racial breakdown: white Republicans are over twice as white Democrats to be satisfied with Zimmerman’s acquittal (65 vs. 30 percent), and black Democrats are more likely than white Democrats (91 vs. 56 percent) to be unhappy with the verdict.

Gender and age
Younger people are more likely to be unhappy with Zimmerman’s acquittal (53 percent among adults under 30) than those 65 and older (33 percent). Additionally, women are more likely than men to be displeased with the decision (48 percent vs. 36 percent).

Overall, the Majority consists of people who are: not satisfied, people that say race is getting too much attention, black people, Republicans, the Tea Party, white Republicans, young people and women.

Drone hunting season could start in Colorado

Drones being downed them like ducks in a prospective protective sport

Drones could be game for guns in Deer Trail, Colorado.

Deer Trail, a small town with a population of 559 as of 2011, is considering an ordinance that would create a license and bounty for hunters who shoot down drones.

Deer Trail resident Philip Steel has drafted the proposed ordinance, which calls for a $25 drone hunting license and outlines “rules of engagement” for hunters itching to down unmanned, aerial surveillance vehicles.

“We do not want drones in town,” said Philip Steel, the resident who drafted the ordinance to Denver’s ABC 7 affiliate. “They fly in town, they get shot down.”

Deer Trail would, according to the proposal, issue a $100 reward to any person who presents a valid hunting license and provides identifiable parts of a drone whose markings and configuration align with similar aircraft known to be maintained by the federal government of the U.S.

Drones have not been seen by Steel flying over Deer Trail, but Steel says the ordinance is a “symbolic” idea.

“I do not believe in the idea of a surveillance society, and I believe we are headed that way,” he added.

Of the drone license, Steel says, “They’ll sell like hotcakes. It could be a huge moneymaker for the town.”

Deer Field’s board member David Boyd supports the drone ordinance.

“Even if a tiny percentage of people get online (for a) for a drone license, that’s cool,” Boyd said. “That’s a lot of money to a small town like us. Could be known for it as well, which probably might be a mixed blessing, but what the heck.”

Deer Field—which claims to be home to “the world’s first rodeo”—is even thinking of hosting the world’s first drone hunt, which town clerk Kim Oldfield describes as, “A skeet, fun-filled festival.”

Deer Field’s board will consider the drone hunting ordinance on August 6.