Italy Charges Seismologists with Manslaughter for Failure to Predict Deadly Earthquake

Italy has filed charges of manslaughter against the president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, and six other scientists, for failing to predict the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake that killed 308 people.

While most scientists believe that earthquakes are inevitable – and that their occurrences are usually not matters of “if” but of “when” – they also agree that it is virtually impossible to predict when they will strike.

The decision to try the six members of a committee tasked with determining the risk of an earthquake in the area (along with a government official) was announced by Judge Giuseppe Romano, according to the American Associate for the Advancement of Science.

The Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that the indictment on manslaughter charges says the seven defendants provided “imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information,” in a press conference six days before the deadly quake struck. In so doing, they “thwarted the activities designed to protect the public.”

Scientists have searched for indicators of pending earthquakes for centuries, monitoring everything from small quake “storms” to animal behavior in the hours and days before quakes have hit. To date, there are no known methods considered valid or reliable for accurately predicting earthquakes.

Those crazy Italians, huh?


The Eerie Photography of Andrzej Dragan

In addition to his day job as a physicist, Poland’s Andrzej Dragan is also an amazing photographer. His macabre portraits are creepy – some of them verging on evil. He shows us the ugly, terrifying side of life that we normally only visit in our nightmares. I find his work fascinating – perhaps, you will too.

University of Colorado Sues Manufacturer Over ‘Defective Toilet Paper’

Crappy toilet paper creates quite a stink on campus

Apparently there’s such a thing as defective toilet paper. No moving parts. No electronics. By all accounts, toilet paper is a pretty simple concept.

So what exactly constitutes defective toilet paper, you ask?

Let’s check in with the University of Colorado, who is suing companies in San Diego and Phoenix over defective toilet paper after amassing $40,000 in plumbing fees over the past few years.

Apparently, defective toilet paper has created quite a stink in Boulder: bubbling toilets, toilets that wouldn’t flush – and toilets that have overflowed –  causing flooding and backed up drains.

The university claims there were flooding issues in 27 buildings in the spring of 2009 alone, which begs the question: Why did it take two years and a toilet-flooding epidemic before anyone thought to check out the toilet paper? I’m no toilet paper engineer, but that’s one of the first things I’d consider under such crappy circumstances.

Steve Spangler, an author known in Boulder as “Science Guy,” says toilet paper manufacturers must walk a fine line between producing tissue that is too thin and will tear too easily, and making tissue that is too tough and will not disperse properly when flushed. (Not to mention the other – more relevant – issues related to “tough” toilet paper.)

Spangler speculated that thecompanies may have over-corrected – following earlier complaints – by toughening the toilet paper too much. Ouch.

“Maybe there was a complaint that it was not as strong as it needed to be, and someone made an adjustment and didn’t go back and test it again,” he said. “I have a feeling their research and development department will be much stronger after the lawsuit.”

One wonders just exactly what transpires in the research and development department of a toilet paper manufacturer? Never mind.

7 Mysterious Disappearances in History

Speculation continues to this day

Thousands of people go missing every year in the U.S. alone for a variety of reasons: Unsolved murders or suicides, teenage runaways, and people who just want to “get away from it all.” Having said that, there are a few vanishings in history that are either inexplicable, or have captured the public’s attention to the extent that they continue to intrigue folks to this day. Here are among the most curious:

7. Harold Holt, 1967

It’s not every day that an active head of state — in this case the Prime Minister of Australia — simply disappears. That’s precisely what happened one Sunday morning in December of 1967 when the Prime Minister went for a swim and was never seen again. A massive search was conducted, but his body was never found. There were many rumors surrounding Holt’s death, including claims that he had committed suicide or faked his own death in order to run away with his mistress. His death became the subject of numerous urban myths in Australia, including outlandish but persistent stories that he had been kidnapped by a Chinese submarine, or that he had been abducted by a UFO. Most likely, the 59-year-old Prime Minister — not in the best of health at the time — was simply swept out to sea at a beach notorious for its strong and dangerous rip currents.

6. Raoul Wallenberg, 1945

Chance are you’ve never heard of Raoul Wallenberg. Few people outside of Sweden remember the courageous Swedish diplomat who was credited with saving the lives of at least 20,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. (10 times more than Oskar Schindler, immortalized in Schindler’s List). Arrested on espionage charges in Budapest following the arrival of the Soviet army, his subsequent fate remains a mystery despite hundreds of purported sightings in Soviet prisons, some as recent as the 1980s. In 2001, after 10 years of research, a Swedish-Russian panel concluded that Wallenberg probably died (most likely executed by the Russians) in July of 1947, but to date no substantiating evidence has been found. He rightfully remains a genuine hero for his actions in Sweden, and to thousands of Jews around the world.

5. Glenn Miller, 1944

When the popular American jazz musician and bandleader vanished enroute from England to France to play for troops in recently liberated Paris, few people knew about it at the time due because it happened the same day the Germans launched their last major offensive against the allies in what would be known as the Battle of the Bulge. The fate of the single-engine Norseman over the English Channel 10 days before Christmas has never been explained, and no trace of Miller or the plane has ever been found. There is speculation that it was shot down by a German fighter, or that it was hit by ordnance dropped from British bombers on their way back from a canceled mission. (At the time, bombers couldn’t return with unexploded ordnance on board and were required to jettison their bombs — preferably over the ocean — before they could land.) Whatever the case, Miller’s death was a huge loss to the American musical scene.

4. D.B. Copper, 1971

In what many consider one of the most bizarre events in aviation and criminal history, a man calling himself D.B. Cooper skyjacked a Boeing 727 over Washington State and, after collecting a ransom of $200,000 from authorities, jumped from the rear stairs of the plane from an altitude of 10,000 feet, never to be seen again. This is made-to-order stuff for conspiracy buffs, who came up with all sorts of scenarios — not to mention alleged suspects — about who the mysterious man was and what became of him. The mystery appeared destined to remain unsolved until a boy playing on the banks of the Columbia River in 1980 found a stack of decaying bills later confirmed to have been part of Cooper’s ransom, suggesting that the man probably didn’t survive the plunge after all. It was only a small part of the ransom (about $5,000), allowing the faithful to ask what became of the rest of it — and of the man who almost got away with the perfect crime.

3. Percy Fawcett, 1925

When British archaeologist and explorer, Percy Fawcett, together with his eldest son, Jack, and friend Raleigh Rimmell, set out for the jungles of Brazil in search for a hidden “city of gold,” who could have imagined that something could possibly go wrong? They were never heard from again and their fate remains unknown to this day. Several unconfirmed sightings and many conflicting reports and theories explaining their disappearance followed, but despite the loss of over 100 lives in more than a dozen follow-up expeditions, and the recovery of some of Fawcett’s belongings, their fate remains a mystery. Perhaps they ended up in a stew, or as shrunken heads on a witch doctor’s fireplace mantle.

2. Jimmy Hoffa, 1975

This one is personal to me. My dad was a Teamster whose pension funds were misapproriated during Jimmy Hoffa”s time as president of the union. Coincidentally, I’ve also eaten at the restaurant where Hoffa was last seen. So what’s the payoff for being one of the most obnoxious union leaders ever to testify before a Senate subcommittee? A cement overcoat, which is probably what Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa got when his organized crime pals decided he was more trouble than he was worth. In any case, when he went missing on July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant near Detroit, it wasn’t much of a shock to anyone. Of course, what do you expect when you’re meeting with a pair of Mafiosos with Soprano-sounding names like “Tony Jack” Giacolone and “Tony Pro” Provenzano. The only real mysterious is where, or how they disposed of the body. One of the more popular suggestions was the fifty-yard line at Giant’s Stadium in New Jersey.

1. Amelia Earhart, 1937

This is without a doubt the most famous disappearance in history. The fate of to the 39-year-old flyer and her navigator, Fred Noonan, remains a topic of speculation to this day. On one of the last legs of a circumnavigation of the globe, the pair left New Guinea en route to the tiny Howland Island, never to be seen or heard from again. The most likely explanation is they simply got lost and ran out of fuel, forcing them to ditch in the sea — most likely a fatal prospect in the heavy, two-engine Lockheed Electra they were flying. Conspiracy theorists have had a field day ever since, some claiming that she was captured by the Japanese when she flew too near the Marshal Islands on a secret spying mission for FDR. while others think she set down on some other deserted island and played Gilligan’s Island with Fred for awhile. As late as 1970, there were those who claimed she was still alive, having somehow survived to make her way to America to live under an assumed name. Damn, I love conspiracy theory nuts.