Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wreckage Found Off Coast of Borneo May Be That of Missing Air Asia Flight 8501

Searchers combing the waters between Borneo and Sumatra may have found the wreckage of an Air Asia flight that disappeared off of radar screens abruptly early Sunday morning. Prior to losing contact with Air Traffic Control in Indonesia, Air Asia flight QZ8501 took off from Surabaya on the island of Java enroute to Singapore.

While over the Karimata Strait, the crew requested clearance to change altitude from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid storm clouds. Permission was denied by Indonesian controllers due to already heavy traffic in the area. Less than 45 minutes into its flight, the Airbus A320 disappeared from screens with 162 people on board and no distress signal sent.

Searchers began scouring the area of QZ88501's last known whereabouts with aircraft and sonar within hours of the flight's disappearance. After nearly 48 hours, searchers believed they had spotted debris from the air and bodies were being recovered from the sea by helicopter and warship. Horrified relatives waiting on news regarding their loved ones were reportedly shown images from Indonesian media of a helicopter crew retrieving a dead body floating from the sea.

By early Wednesday, Indonesian officials said that they had obtained what appeared to be sonar images of an airplane upside down on the sea floor. Meanwhile, Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes sent out a tweet that confirmed the debris spotted by Indonesian searchers was in fact the remnants of QZ8501.

The A320 used by the Kuala Lumpur-based airline was reportedly purchased new from Airbus in 2008, According to the passenger manifest, all but 7 of QZ8501's passengers and crew were from Indonesia. Other nationalities on board included South Korea, Malaysia, the UK, Singapore and France.

Air Asia was started in 1993 and is widely considered to be southeast Asia's first viable budget airline.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Today's Train of Thought- Merry Christmas!, Dec 25th 2014

With the world seeming as though it's spiraling out of control with each passing day, it certainly is nice to be able to unwind among friends and loved ones around the Holidays where our concerns may be no more grave than getting black olives on the wrong half of the pizza you ordered for everyone or questioning whether or not a gift card could be considered tacky and impersonal.

This Christmas-card worthy scene that you see here takes place in Caledonia County, Vermont, which is a little ways away from Washington County. Yet despite not going through Washington County [which is where Vermont's capital of Montpelier is located- NANESB!], this line is named after Washington County.

Once upon a time, the Washington County Railroad served the quarries and Bombardier plant around Montpelier, VT. In the 1990s, the railway suffered a catastrophic enginehouse fire, destroying their only two locomotives. After operating under a few different interim operators, the Vermont Railway ended up acquiring the WACR in 1999. By 2003, the Iron Road Railways- which had acquired the Bangor & Aroostook, the former Canadian Pacific mainline between Brownville Jct, ME and St Jean Quebec and the former B&M line from Newport, VT to White River Jct- filed for bankruptcy. Most of the original Bangor & Aroostook as well as the newer Canadian-Atlantic railway linking northern Maine to Montreal was reorganized under the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic [which was in turn re-established as the Central Maine & Quebec after the disastrous 2013 Lac Megantic train wreck and explosion bankrupted the MM&A- NANESB!]. However, the Newport to White River Jct line was acquired by the state of Vermont and almost immediately subcontracted to the Vermont Railway [similar to what the Green Mountain state did in response to the Rutland Railroad's 1963 bankruptcy- NANESB!]. The line was operated under the Washington County- or WACR- banner with the original Washington County trackage around Montpelier being referred to as the Granite District and the 100+ mile line threading its way through northeastern Vermont being referred to as the Connecticut River Division.

As you can probably gather from this image, the WACR is in fact affiliated with the Vermont Railway system. In this winter vignette shown above, the crew of this Washington County Railroad plow train appears to have not that much in the way of accumulated snowfall to worry about. NERail photos contributor Richard Deuso caught Vermont Railway GP40-2 #308 leading a Clarendon & Pittsford GP38 through Lyndonville, VT on January 3rd, 2013 with a VTR snowplow on point. Interestingly, the 308 didn't venture too far from its original haunt, since it started out life as Boston & Maine #303 in 1977.

It doesn't look like there's a lot of snow to clear on this bright winter day, so it's possible it's en route to being repositioned elsewhere for future use.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 College Football Bowl Schedule Update

I'm aware that I'm long overdue for a Sports Chowdah update, but right now about all I have time for is a quick rundown of the upcoming NCAA Bowl games starting Saturday.

Saturday, Dec 20th
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Nevada vs. UL Lafayette
11:00 a.m. ET ESPN

Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Utah State vs. UTEP
2:20 p.m. ET ESPN

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
#22 Utah vs. Colorado State
3:30 p.m. ET ABC

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Western Michigan vs. Air Force
5:45 p.m. ET ESPN

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
South Alabama vs. Bowling Green
9:15 p.m. ET ESPN

Monday, Dec 22nd
Miami Beach Bowl
BYU vs. Memphis
2:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Tuesday, Dec 23rd
Boca Raton Bowl
Marshall vs. Northern Illinois
6:00 p.m. ET ESPN

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Navy vs. San Diego State
9:30 p.m. ET ESPN

Wednesday, Dec 24th
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky
12:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Fresno State vs. Rice
8:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Friday, Dec 26th
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl
Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech
1:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Quick Lane Bowl
Rutgers vs. North Carolina
4:30 p.m. ET ESPN

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
NC State vs. UCF
8:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Saturday, Dec 27th
Military Bowl
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
1:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Hyundai Sun Bowl
#15 Arizona State vs. Duke
2:00 p.m. ET CBS

Duck Commander Independence Bowl
Miami, FL vs. South Carolina
3:30 p.m. ET ABC

New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Boston College vs. Penn State
4:30 p.m. ET ESPN

National University Holiday Bowl
Nebraska vs. #24 USC
8:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Monday, Dec 29th
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Texas A&M vs. West Virginia
2:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Russell Athletic Bowl
#17 (17) Clemson vs. Oklahoma
5:30 p.m. ET ESPN

AdvoCare Texas Bowl
Arkansas vs. Texas
9:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Tuesday, Dec 30th
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Notre Dame vs. #23 LSU
3:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Belk Bowl
#13 Georgia vs. #21 Louisville
6:30 p.m. ET ESPN

Foster Farms Bowl
Maryland vs. Stanford
10:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Wednesday, Dec 31st
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
#9 Ole Miss vs. #6 TCU
12:30 p.m. ET ESPN

Vizio Fiesta Bowl
#20 Boise State vs. #10 Arizona
4:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Capital One Orange Bowl
#7 Mississippi State vs. #12 Georgia Tech
8:00 p.m. ET ESPN

Thursday, Jan 1st
Outback Bowl
#19 Auburn vs. #18 Wisconsin
12:00 p.m. ET EPSN2

Goodyear Cotton Bowl
#8 Michigan State vs. #5 Baylor
12:30 p.m. ET ESPN

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
#25 Minnesota vs. #16 Missouri
1:00 p.m. ET ABC

Rose Bowl**
#2 Oregon vs. #3 Florida State
4:30 p.m. ET ESPN

Allstate Sugar Bowl**
#1 Alabama vs. #4 Ohio State
8:30 p.m. ET ESPN

Friday, Jan 2nd
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Houston vs. Pittsburgh
12:00 p.m. ET ESPN

TaxSlayer Bowl
Iowa vs. Tennessee
3:20 p.m. ET ESPN

Valero Alamo Bowl
#11 Kansas State vs #14 UCLA
6:45 p.m. ET ESPN

TicketCity Cactus Bowl
Washington vs. Oklahoma State
10:15 p.m. ET ESPN

Saturday, Jan 3rd
Birmingham Bowl
East Carolina vs. Florida
12:00 ET ESPN

Sunday, Jan 4th
GoDaddy Bowl
Toledo vs. Arkansas State

Monday, Jan 12th
College Football Championship Game
Semifinal [Rose Bowl] Winner vs. Semifinal {sugar Bowl] Winner

**denotes national championship semifinal under new NCAA Football playoff format
8:30 p.m. ET ESPN

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sony Pulls The Interview From Theaters After Suspected North Korean Hackers Issue Threats

Sony Films announced this week that they were cancelling the release of the Seth Rogen comedy The Interview after the studio's emails and files were on the receiving end of a sophisticated hack.
Sony has confirmed it has no plans to release the satirical film The Interview internationally, in any form, following threats from hackers.

Cinemas in the US cancelled screenings of the film, about a plot to kill North Korea's leader, prompting Sony to shelve it altogether.

But there has been dismay in Hollywood, with Ben Stiller calling the move "a threat to freedom of expression".

Hackers had issued a warning to cinema-goers who planned to watch the movie.

Sony said it was "deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie".

"We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatre-goers," the studio said.

It added: "We stand by our film-makers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome."

The cancellation comes after hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace released emails and data stolen from Sony in late November.

In a later warning to cinemas screening The Interview, they referred to the 9/11 attacks, claiming "the world will be full of fear".

"Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time," the hacker group wrote, in a message on Tuesday.

"Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment."

Sony had given theatres in the US and Canada the option to bow out of showing The Interview in the wake of the threats.

Sony had given theater chains throughout North America the option to pull out of showing The Interview. Once major chains like Regal Cinemas [NYSE- RGC], Cinemark [NYSE- CNK] and AMC Cinemas [NYSE- AMC] opted out of distributing the film that reportedly had a cascading effect on other distributors.

The comedy stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as two bumbling Hollywood insiders who manage to land an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and are recruited by the CIA to assassinate him.

The move by Sony to pull The Interview from its scheduled Christmas day release as condemned by many in Hollywood, Washington DC and on social media, with actor Rob Lowe [who has a cameo in the film, according to the IMDB- NANESB!] tweeting that Sony's decision "would've made Neville Chamberlain proud". Comedian Steve Carell simply tweeted a clip from Charlie Chaplin's 1940 satire The Great Dictator in which Chaplin was mimickinng Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's speeches and mannerisms.

Shortly after Sony announced the cancellation of The Interview, some theaters announced that they would be airing the 2004 comedy Team America: World Police which mocked Kim Jong Un's father and then North Korean-leader Kim Jong Il. However, Paramount Pictures has told theaters not to air the movie.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pakistan Taliban Murder 132 Schoolchildren in Peshewar Attack

Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers attacked an Army-run school in the Pakistani city of Peshewar on Tuesday, killing at least 132 students and 9 members of the school's staff. With gravely injured students being treated in nearby hospitals for burns as well as bullet and shrapnel wounds, the death toll may go even higher over the next few days.

Pupils as young as nine were shot in their classrooms, or picked off as they ran for cover or begged for help. Others died when the bombers detonated their suicide vests in the playground which was packed with youngsters.

"They dragged the students from classrooms and shot them with automatic rifles," Kashif Ali, 13, one of the injured pupils, said.

Muhammad Shakoor, another injured 13-year-old, said: "The militants pulled the students from beneath the desks and tables and killed them."

A spokesman for the Taliban said it had targeted the school, which served children of the military, in retaliation for the killing of jihadist fighters by the Pakistan army.
As Pakistani troops moved in to secure the grounds of the school, horrific accounts from eyewitnesses and survivors began trickling out. In a classroom with about 60 pupils, a Taliban suicide bomber entered and blew himself up. Others tell of a teacher being burned alive by Taliban gunmen as they forced the students to watch.

According to survivors, many students were gathered for a First Aid class that was to be given by Pakistani Army medics. There were at least six attackers and they reportedly went from room to room, shooting students as they hid under desks or behind bleachers. The attackers also seemed to know that the wives of some high-ranking Pakistani Army officers were present, bolstering claims that the assailants had inside information about the school.

The attacks come about a week after the Obama Administration released the Tehrek-i-Talibani's second in command after he was captured by US forces in Afghanistan during a 2013 raid. The timing of the massacre also came shortly after Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for continuing to speak out in favor of women's education after she was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in her native Swat Valley in 2012. At age 17, Yousefzai is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize and her family condemned the Peshawar school attacks in statements to the media.

Russia's Rouble Collapsing as Oil Prices in Freefall

As the price of oil plummeted to below $60 a barrel on increased Saudi production, Russia's already sluggish economy took a significant hit when Russia's central bank announced they would increase the key interest rate from 10.5% to 17% in a drastic move announced earlier this week.

The move was done in part to halt the Russian Ruble's drastic slide against the Dollar and Euro- as of Wednesday afternoon, the Ruble was trading at just over 60 to the dollar [down from 68 prior to interest rate hikes- NANESB!] and just under 75 to the Euro.

Although Russia has been on the receiving end of lukewarm sanctions from the USA and European Union after Russia annexed the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, it's apparent that the recently plummeting energy prices have played a role in Russia's latest economic crisis.

This leaves Putin with the difficult choice of trying to prop up the mostly resource-based Russian economy or continue his costly military campaign against the Ukraine [I'm of two minds on this- while I'm glad Putin's finally reeling after attacking a neighboring country unprovoked, let's also keep in mind that no matter how dangerous and belligerent a Kremlin flush with petrodollars was the Eastern Europe, an unstable Russia that feels it has nothing left to lose may end up being more dangerous to the region. Also, who's to say the contagion would be confined exclusively to Russia?- NANESB!].

Over the last several weeks, the implied rationale behind Saudi Arabia's increase in production was that they were attempting to undermine the fracking boom in the US and Canada, temporarily saturating the global market with cheap oil and making the labor intensive practice unprofitable for North American companies. While this strategy would mean the Saudis would lose money in the short-term, they would (in theory) benefit in the long run from reduced competition from oil shale in west Texas and North Dakota.

However, others have theorized that Russia was the intended target of a clandestine Saudi economic attack all along. With President Obama ignoring his own self-declared 'Red Line' in Syria and seeking rapprochement with Iran- despite the Islamic Republic's stated desire to obtain nuclear weapons- the Arabian kingdom has decided to act unilaterally and go after Syria and Iran's benefactor in Russia economically. If that is the case, then undercutting Russia's state-run Gazprom by flooding the global marketplace with cheap oil has proven devastatingly effective so far- moreso than tepid the tepid sanctions levied on Russia after invading the eastern Ukraine.

Whether it's to undercut Russia or the fracking boom in the USA, the Saudi strategy is sure to cause problems among other OPEC members who are just as reliant on oil as Russia and may not be able to ride out low prices like the House of Saud. Even more problematic for some OPEC nations such as Iran and Venezuela is that Russia is their primary benefactor.

The move by Russia's Central Bank comes a little over a month after Russia and China agreed to a lucrative $300B energy deal which would give China's quasi-state run China National Petroleum Corp a partial stake in west Siberian oil and gas fields. In October, China and Russia had signed an agreement to swap nearly $100B of currency, so China may be on the hook as well if the Ruble continues its collapse.

The rate increase has also triggered bickering amid Putin's inner circle and prompted many Russians swarming markets to buy goods before the prices went up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hostage-Taker in Sydney With Islamist Flag Killed by Police; 2 Hostages Dead

A gunman who held staff and patrons of a chocolate shop in Sydney's business district was shot and killed by police as they stormed the building in the early morning hours of Monday. However, the gunman- identified as an Iranian immigrant who went by the name of Man Haron Monis- reportedly shot and killed two of his hostages before being brought down by police gunfire.

The scene unfolded on Sunday when Monis- who was already facing charges for conspiracy to commit murder and more than 40 counts of sexual assault- stormed into the Lindt Café chocolate shop in the business district of Australia's largest city with a sawed off shotgun. Authorities were reportedly kept at bay when freed hostages claimed the self-styled 'Sheikh' had explosives. Monis also forced his captives to hold up a flag with Arabic script to the window that read "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Messenger". The flag was incorrectly identified as an ISIS flag by various media outlets, but similar banners have been used by other Islamist groups such as Boko Haram out of Nigeria or Somalia's Al Shabaab. In fact, Monis had reportedly listed an ISIS flag as part of his demands, along with a telephone debate with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot.

Monis was known to local police and was out on bail when he entered the chocolate shop. In addition to charges of conspiracy to commit murder in the death of his ex-wife Monis was facing at least 40 charges of sexual assault after a 27 year old woman filed a complaint with police.
In January this year, a 27-year-old woman complained to police that she had been sexually assaulted by Monis, after attending "spiritual healing sessions" in response to an advertisement placed in newspapers aimed at the Fijian-Indian, Macedonian, Spanish and Chinese communities.

That complaint triggered a police investigation, which saw Monis charged on April 14 with three sexual assault charges against one woman. The charges were sexual intercourse without consent and two charges of assault with act of indecency.

The woman was visiting him at a property in Station Street, Wentworthville, in August 2002. He appeared before Magistrate Christine Haskett at Kogarah Local Court. He was refused bail.

On May 26, he was granted bail at Parramatta Local Court by Magistrate Joan Baptie. The conditions placed on him in December 2013 were reinstated although he was to live at an address in Wiley Park.

On October 10, he was charged with a further 40 sexual assault charges against six women. This included 22 counts of aggravated sexual assault, 14 counts of aggravated indecent assault, one count of aggravated act of indecency, one count of sexual assault and two counts of assault with act of indecency. The women were visiting him at Wentworthville where he was offering services as a "spiritual healer". His bail was continued by Magistrate Dorelle Pinch.

He was due to appear in Penrith Local Court on Friday, December 12, but this was vacated and changed to February 27, 2015.

Apparently, despite being on bail for numerous serious criminal charges against him, Monis was still able to obtain a firearm in a nation with strict gun control laws. Although Monis' then-partner Amirah Drouids also faced charges in the stabbing death of Moni's ex-wife, it appears as though Monis acted on his own in the siege.

Monis also claimed that he was in contact with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office and sought to send "237 baskets of flowers with 237 condolence letters" to families of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan- but Australian officials prevented him from having any contact after the self-styled 'sheikh' sent poison-pen letters to families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan referring to them as 'sons of pigs' no better than Hitler.

He came to the attention of police between 2007 and 2009, when he wrote poison pen letters to the families of Australian servicemen killed in Afghanistan.

During court hearings over the letter-writing, Monis claimed he was a peace activist and chained himself to the court, waving a small Australian flag.

He described his letters as "flowers of advices" [sic], saying: "From now on when I want to advise people not to kill civilians I should do it by hand delivery."

In August 2013, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service, but refused to accept the court's verdict. Despite pleading guilty to all 12 charges against him, he appealed, claiming his trial was "politically motivated" and that his children were taken away from him.

The two murdered hostages were identified as 34 year old Tori Johnson, who was the manager of the shop and 38 year old Katrina Dawson, a mother of three. According to other hostages, Johnson was killed when he attempted to wrestle the gun away from Monis while Dawson placed herself between Monis' weapon and a pregnant colleague.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu Loses Runoff Campaign to Republican Challegnger Bill Cassidy

Red is for the parishes that Cassidy won while Blue is the parishes that voted for Landrieu. It wasn't even as close as it appears on the map.

The 2014 midterm elections officially wrapped up on Saturday and the Republican party extended their total gains to nine US senate seats when the polls closed in Louisiana for a runoff election for the US Senate seat held by incumbent Mary Landrieu. Observers both inside and outside the Sportsman's Paradise believe the December runoff campaign may not have been necessary if the ballot in the November general election wasn't split between multiple Republican candidates. Last month, both Landrieu and challenger Bill Cassidy failed to get more than 50% of the vote, making last week's runoff necessary.

Sen Landrieu's re-election bid seemed doomed late when she said in an interview shortly before the general election that she stated southern states like her native Louisiana were hostile towards women and minorities. Just days before the runoff voting, she gave a radio interview where she implied the host was illiterate and hung up only part way through when she was facing repeated questioning over her support for 0bamacare.

Nationally, Landrieu was further hurt by the Senate Democrats rejecting a hastily put together bill supporting the KeystoneXL pipeline by a lame-duck session of congress and President Obama's executive order that effectively gave amnesty to more than 5 million illegal immigrants late last month. Offshore drilling and energy exploration in the Gulf of Mexico contributes millions of dollars to Louisiana's economy annually and it's believed that the oil from northern Alberta's Athabasca oil sands that would be carried by the proposed pipeline would end up in a Louisiana refinery.

Senator-elect Cassidy had previously served as a Congressman from Louisiana's 6th district and in the Louisiana's Senate after receiving an MD from the LSU school of Medicine and helped establish the Greater Baton Rouge Community Clinic.