This is a big deal
March 13, 2014
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There's a reason — a really, really good reason — that natural gas companies add a rotten-egg smell to their otherwise odorless product: Gas leaks are dangerous, and the best way to find them is with your nose. Wednesday's huge gas-leak explosion in New York City, which leveled two buildings and killed at least six people, is a sad reminder of that danger.

Digg's Josh Petri has taken the occasion to remind everyone that if you smell gas in your home, open the windows and leave, immediately. Smell isn't the only way to detect a leak — a hissing sound, dead houseplants, or bubbles in flooded areas are also red flags — but it's the most obvious one. Don't let the jocular tone of Petri's article dissuade you from reading about the dangers and aging infrastructure of natural gas delivery. Almost as important as the advice to leave your home and call the utility company (or 911), though, is Petri's list of what not to do if you smell gas:

Do not, under any circumstances:

• Flip any switches

• Unplug or plug in any electronics

• Use a telephone

• Start your car

• Use an open flame [Digg]

Most deadly gas explosions aren't as dramatic as the ones in Harlem, but they happen all over the country, and they kill people. Be safe.

Only in America
3:11 p.m. ET
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A New York state high school celebrating National Foreign Language Week caused an uproar when a student recited the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. Student Andrew Zink said reciting the pledge in different languages was meant to show that "what makes you American is not the language you speak, but the ideas you believe in." But the district superintendent publicly apologized, saying the use of Arabic "divided the school in half."

Here's looking at you kid
2:45 p.m. ET
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Being hassled at the airport by TSA is a nuisance every traveler wants to avoid — and now a "secret behavior checklist" released by The Intercept may help passengers do just that.

Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, is the program used by TSA officers to spot suspicious-looking characters. Individuals who exhibit certain characteristics such as "excessive throat clearing" and "exaggerated yawning" earn a point or two toward their ranking of likely-terrorist. Conversely, points are deducted if you're a member of a family or if you're of a more advanced age.

Other factors on the 92-point checklist that might cause TSA to pay special attention to you at the airport include "face pale from recent shaving of beard," "unusual items," and "fast eye blink rate."

The SPOT program has repeatedly come under fire by critics who question the effectiveness of behavior detection and those who say the program could lead to racial profiling. In 2013, a Government Accountability Office report found that evidence did not support whether the SPOT techniques were effective in identifying "persons who may pose a risk to aviation security."

Really?
2:28 p.m. ET
Amazingkreskinsupernaturaldatingsociety.com

Dating sites and apps often make users take personality questionnaires about their interests. But what if your pastimes include discussing paranormal activity?

Enter The Amazing Kreskin's Supernatural Dating Society, which helps paranormal enthusiasts find similar-minded companions. The site's 80-year-old founder, the Amazing Kreskin himself, spoke to Cosmopolitan about the site, which he says provides users with "a way to express themselves, and not feel embarrassed or humiliated or like they're a kook."

Kreskin explained that after his mentalist shows, people would often tell him they wanted to find others to accompany them in exploring allegedly haunted sites, and his website will allow users with similar paranormal interests, whether that means mind control or UFOs, to connect. In the Cosmopolitan interview, he also offered up some sage dating advice, suggesting that people "put the damn cell phone away" and have actual conversations with one another.

Unfortunately, Kreskin himself plans to stay single: He told Cosmopolitan that he only takes four days off each month, so he doesn't have much time for a relationship.

This just in
2:20 p.m. ET

The New York Post obtained surveillance footage of the powerful blast that brought down three buildings yesterday in the New York City's East Village and caused a massive fire, leading to at least 19 injuries.

Two people from the buildings remain unaccounted for.

Innovation of the Week
1:52 p.m. ET
(Courtesy Photo)

In New York City, a shot in the dark just got a whole lot easier to track, said Maud Rozee at Gothamist. The Police Department unveiled its new ShotSpotter detection system last week, a state-of-the-art network of 300 sensors deployed over 15 square miles that can "triangulate the location of gunshots to within 25 meters." Police officials estimate that up to 75 percent of shots fired in the city don't result in 911 calls, "a phenomenal underreporting of incidents of violence," said police commissioner Bill Bratton. The new system will be linked to closed-circuit TV cameras, "license plate readers, radiation sensors, and 911 calls" to give police more real-time information on locations where shots were fired. "It's going to send a message to our communities," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "If you fire a weapon, the police are going to know immediately."

Germanwings Crash
1:25 p.m. ET
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Aviation lawyers believe that the families of victims in Tuesday's Germanwings plane crash may be able to seek unlimited liabilities from Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company.

Investigators said Thursday that Andreas Lubitz, the plane's co-pilot, was likely to have intentionally crashed the plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. Investigators also believe Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit.

"The liability for the victims would be uncapped," George Leloudas, an aviation law expert, told Bloomberg. "From the perspective of the airline, it's difficult. There are no real defenses that you can use. It is irrational. That is why you buy insurance."

Bloomberg notes that under the international Montreal Convention, coverage for the victims' families will likely begin at $139,000. Kevin Durkin, an air crash attorney at Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, told Bloomberg that the convention "does not limit a person's recovery," and the claimants may be able to seek more.

In that case, "the burden is on Germanwings to prove that some entity other than it was the only cause of the occurrence," Bloomberg explains. James Healy-Pratt, an aviation lawyer at London's Stewarts Law LLP, told Bloomberg that Germanwings may be insured for up to $1 billion.

This just in
12:45 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Following the news that he would not seek re-election next year, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) endorsed Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to take his place. Reid made the comment to The Washington Post during an interview in his home Friday morning.

Reid's endorsement of Schumer means he is leapfrogging Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who is the second-highest Democrat in the upper chamber. (Schumer is third in line.) Reid said Durbin would likely not oppose Schumer and predicted Schumer would win the post uncontested. The Post reports that Reid and Durbin spoke via phone Friday morning.

Reid apparently thinks Schumer could bring a "different style" to the leadership post. A spokesman for Reid said: "It's the caucus' decision but Senator Reid thinks Senator Schumer has earned it."

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