While You Were Sleeping | General News & Politics | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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While You Were Sleeping 

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Billionaire Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner is funding an initiative to discover life on other planets. Milner has invested $100 million into the project called the Breakthrough Initiatives, and its first phase, Breakthrough Listen, launched in late July. Using two of the world's most powerful telescopes, Breakthrough Listen is the most comprehensive and intensive search for extraterrestrials ever undertaken. The program will survey the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth with hopes of finding conditions suitable to life. It is expected to be 1,000 times more effective than any other search for life on other planets. Phase two of the initiative, Breakthrough Message, will focus on what to transmit into space for possible ETs to hear. It is a question that Milner will open to the public to answer, offering a million-dollar award to the individual(s) who create a digital message that best represents humanity.

Source: Techcrunch

In early July, the famous and beloved Zimbabwean lion Cecil was killed. The culprit behind Cecil's death is Minnesota dentist and real-life Francis Macomber Walter Palmer, who, along with hired hunting guides, lured the black-maned lion outside a national park, where it would have been illegal to kill, and shot him with a bow and arrow. Cecil is believed to have bled out for 40 hours before Palmer and his guides tracked him down and shot the lion at point-blank range. Palmer has claimed that he didn't know the lion was a protected local favorite until after the hunt had ended—a hunt that he paid $50,000 to go on. "The saddest part of all," says Johny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, "is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil's cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females." Walter Palmer and the professional guides that he hired are facing poaching charges for the untimely death of Cecil the Lion.

Source: Guardian (UK)

Beware the armadillos! Health officials in Florida have warned people to avoid contact with the creatures, which spit when afraid, as nine cases of leprosy were linked to armadillos this year as of July. That is double the normal number of reported cases. Leprosy, a bacterial disease that affects the skin and nerves, can be spread through saliva. Although most of the population is immune to the disease, which is treatable, leprosy can be fatal if left untreated.

Source: BBC

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that drug-sniffing police dogs should no longer be trusted. Questions about how much reliance should be placed on canine sniffing skills were raised after an appeal by Larry Bentley Jr. of St. Louis, who is serving 20 years for cocaine possession. He argued that the search of his car by Bloomington police during a traffic stop was illegally triggered by Lex, a 10-year-old Belgian Malinois. Throughout his career, Lex has signaled 93 percent of the time that drugs were present; he was wrong in more than 40 percent of cases. The court upheld Bentley's conviction in part because other indications at the traffic stop may have separately justified a search but expressed concerns that Lex's overall performance likely rose just above minimally acceptable levels according to criteria laid out by the Supreme Court.

Source: Associated Press

Five organizations have been awarded medical marijuana licenses by the New York State Health Department. Each organization plans to open four dispensaries statewide, including in New York City, and are required to be doing business within six months. Outlets are planned to open up in the Bronx, Queens, Nassau County, Albany County, and Long Island—just to name a few. The Compassionate Care Act, signed by Governor Cuomo in 2014, authorizes the five marijuana dispensers to do business, who were chosen out of a pool of 43 companies after a rigorous review of prospective purveyors. To some, like health commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the Health Departments decision marks a "major milestone" in the state's medical marijuana program. Others, however, believe the plan is too small to reach the thousands of potential patients that will have to travel huge distances for their medicine—an unrealistic prospect for the disabled or terminally ill.

Source: New York Times

Board members of the Delaware County Fair refused to ban Confederate flag sales in August. The flag has become an increasingly controversial symbol associated with the white supremacist movement. The mass shooting at a Methodist church in Charleston, South Carolina, this June by Dylann Roof, who had posted a racist manifesto as well as photos of the Confederate flag on a website, triggered debate on its modern display. The flag has since been removed from South Carolina's statehouse and many national retailers such as Wal-Mart have stopped selling anything associated with the flag; the New York State Fair banned sale of the flag this summer. Leslie Kauffman, a 4-H Club leader and co-superintendent of the rabbit barn at the fair, requested that the Delaware Valley Agricultural Society, the governing body of the Delaware County Fair, ban the flag. "The more of them, the better," replied Director Norm Kirkpatrick; other directors cited the flag's historical relevance in their refusal to ban its sale, as well as the fact that it would be impossible to ban the flags, as vendor contracts for the fair were signed several months prior to the event.

Source: Watershed Post

Animal rights activists triumphed in August when a federal judge in Idaho lifted a ban on undercover surveillance inside the state's factory farms. Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that the "ag-gag" law violated citizens' right to free speech. Footage captured in 2012 by an undercover advocate of the Mercy for Animals group revealed cruelty—workers beating cows, and using tractors to drag cows with chains around their necks—at Bettencourt Dairies, Idaho's largest dairy factory farm. Several workers were then charged with animal cruelty and the case caught national attention, causing several major food suppliers to reform their policies. Outraged, Idaho's dairy industry mobilized to convince state legislators to pass a law making it illegal to film inside agricultural facilities; Governor C. L. "Butch" Otter signed it, effectively criminalizing whistleblowers and silencing free speech. Animal and civil rights activists lobbied to lift the ban. Judge Winmill agreed that the "ag-gag" law violated First Amendment rights and the equal protection clause as it was motivated in part by resentment toward animal welfare groups.

Source: Guardian (UK)

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