Only in America: The perils of Batman envy
A New Jersey man claims police overreacted when they arrested him for being dressed like a superhero. Matthew Argintar, 23, admits he was outside a Home Depot wearing a bulletproof vest, mask, and cape — and carrying handcuffs — but says he wore his superhero get-up "to inspire hope," which speaks volumes about the perceived hopelessness of a Home Depot parking lot. His lawyer says there is no law that "would prohibit anyone from dressing how they choose to dress."
Raul Castro demands the U.S. return Guantanamo Bay before ties restored
Well, this could complicate the U.S.-Cuban diplomatic thaw: On Wednesday, Cuban President Raúl Castro publicly issued some new demands before the two countries normalize bilateral relations. Among them: Ending the U.S. trade embargo, agreeing to "give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base," and paying Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars as "just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage that they're suffered" from the embargo.
Castro's demands, made in a speech at a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Costa Rica, aren't likely to be met — especially the "just compensation" one and the return of Gitmo, which the U.S. has leased from Cuba since 1903.
But that doesn't mean the high-level talks to restore diplomatic and economic ties is doomed, recent U.S. Interests Section chief in Havana John Caulfield tells The Associated Press. In fact, it may signal that Castro is feeling the heat. Cubans have a "huge expectation of change" since Castro and President Obama announced their historic rapprochement plan in December, he said. And "the more the Cubans feel obligated to defend the status quo and to say that's nothing going to change, the more pressure it indicates to me is on them to make these changes."
Extremely rare red fox makes an appearance at Yosemite
For the first time in a century, the Sierra Nevada red fox was spotted in Yosemite National Park.
— NBC Los Angeles (@NBCLA) January 29, 2015
The rare animal — there are less than 50 in North America — was photographed by motion-sensitive cameras on Dec. 13 and Jan. 4, and Yosemite officials are now trying to figure out if the same fox was spotted twice. "The chance of running into them is very unusual," park spokeswoman Kari Cobb told the Los Angeles Times.
The red fox is one of 14 mammals protected by the state of California, and since sightings are so rare, not much is known about the animal beyond the fact that it's shy and burrows in soil and logs at 6,000 feet elevation. This is the first time one has been seen at the park since 1915, and Cobb is taking that as a good sign, thinking it might mean they will be able to "make a comeback."
Rachel Maddow questions America's 'creepy, totally dependent relationship' with Saudi Arabia
The roster of American officials, from President Obama on down, who went to Saudi King Abdullah's funeral is astounding, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow told David Letterman on Wednesday night's Late Show. Letterman, wading into foreign policy, noted that America's relationship with Saudi Arabia is confusing: "They know we don't like them, and we know they don't like us, but we pretend we're best buddies."
"It's a very awkward thing," Maddow agreed, citing a public beheading the day before Obama arrived and the fact that Saudi women aren't allowed to drive. "And we never bring up these things, because we've got this creepy, totally dependent relationship with them, that we just agree to not discuss." Next up on Letterman, how to best handle post-Soviet Russia? —Peter Weber
Access restricted at famous New Orleans cemetery due to vandalism
Want to get into St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans? Unless you're with an official escort, have ties to someone buried there, or are a member of the spirit world, the oldest cemetery in the city is off limits.
Vandals have long targeted the above-ground plots at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which dates back to the 1700s and is owned by the Archdiocese of New Orleans. But lately, more and more people have been defacing the cemetery's most famous attraction, the tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Last year, someone came after hours and painted the tomb pink, and while it's been a longstanding tradition to mark Xs on the grave for good luck, over the past few months the practice has picked up dramatically.
"It became apparent that we needed to take some action to protect the sanctity of the space, as well as the historic nature of the cemetery," Sarah McDonald, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, told Reuters. Starting in March, tour operators will have to register with the archdiocese and pay $40 for one visit or $4,500 for an annual pass, and visitors will have to go through them to get past the gates. The money brought in will go toward paying for more security.
Jewish community leader arrested, interrogated at Auschwitz
The head of Rome's Jewish community found himself arrested Tuesday night at Auschwitz, the same concentration camp where his grandparents were murdered during the Holocaust.
Riccardo Pacifici was at Auschwitz for the 70th anniversary of its liberation, and while filming a live segment with the Italian show Matrix found that the gates to the camp had been closed. Pacifici, Jewish community spokesman Fabio Perugia, Matrix host David Parenzo, and two technicians spent an hour in the freezing cold, shouting for help and trying to get the attention of guards on security cameras, Haaretz reports. Finally, they decided to escape through an open window in the box office, which triggered an alarm.
Guards and Polish police officers quickly arrived and detained the group, questioning them onsite until 2:30 a.m. They were then moved to a station for further questioning, made difficult by language barriers, and finally released hours later once the Italian foreign ministry became involved. Pacifici told the Italian newspaper La Stampa that he was "astounded" by how they were treated. "They interrogated us until 6 in the morning — two Jews who had been locked inside the Auschwitz camp, where I lost some of my family," he said. "It's a shock. Our only crime was that we tried to get out through the window."
Woman killed during Sydney siege hit by police bullet ricochet
A woman taken hostage during the siege at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney on Dec. 16 was killed by fragments from a police bullet or bullets, a coroner's representative said during an inquest into the event.
Jeremy Gormly said that 38-year-old lawyer Katrina Dawson was struck by six fragments and one hit a major blood vessel, Reuters reports. "She lost consciousness quickly and died shortly afterwards," he said. Police stormed into the cafe after gunman Man Haron Monis shot the cafe's manager, 34-year-old Tori Johnson; Gormly said that a police marksman saw Monis execute Johnson, and that Monis was then was killed instantly by several police bullets and bullet fragments to the body and head.
The inquest is taking place at the same time as a government inquiry into how Monis was able to get a gun and why he was granted bail while facing charges as an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.
New ISIS audio gives Jordan until sunset Thursday for prisoner swap
In a new audio message posted Wednesday, a person purported to be ISIS hostage and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto says that if Jordan does not bring a failed suicide bomber to the Turkish border by sunset Thursday, a Jordanian fighter pilot held by the group will be executed.
ISIS had previously said it would kill Goto and the pilot, Mu'ath al-Kasaesbeh, unless Jordan releases Sajida al-Rishawi, a woman who was put in prison for her involvement in a 2005 botched suicide attack that targeted a hotel in Amman, NBC News reports. The latest message only mentions al-Kasaesbeh's fate, and not Goto's.
Al-Kasaesbeh was captured in December when his jet crashed near Raqqa, Syria, and Jordan's information minister said earlier on Wednesday that the country is willing to swap al-Rishawi for its pilot. Although NBC News says it cannot verify the authenticity of the new recording, posted on an ISIS internet forum, it said it does sound similar to previous messages.
Friendship Nine cleared 54 years after anti-segregation sit-in
On Jan. 31, 1961, nine African-American men protesting segregation held a sit-in at a Rock Hill, South Carolina, dining counter, and were dragged out and arrested. On Wednesday, almost 54 years later to the date, their misdemeanor trespassing charges have been vacated and local authorities are offering up heartfelt apologies.
— Global Grind News (@GlobalGrindNews) January 28, 2015
"We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history," Judge John C. Hayes III, chief administrative judge for South Carolina's 16th Judicial Circuit, said. "Now, as to the Friendship Nine, is the time and opportunity to do so. Now is the time to recognize that justice is not temporal, but is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow."
The men — dubbed the Friendship Nine, as most attended the now-closed Friendship College — decided against paying their fine for trespassing and were sentenced to 30 days of labor in a county prison camp, The New York Times reports. Their choice also inspired other activists to protest and accept jail time. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was at the courthouse, and said it was time for the Friendship Nine to be recognized for what they did. "This is a monumental day for not just civil rights, but human rights and human dignity," she said.
Study: Beauty products may cause early menopause
A woman's use of products like fragrance, cosmetics, and hairspray could mean she hits menopause years sooner than she would have naturally, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE.
The study, which TIME calls one of the most comprehensive studies of factors that disrupt menopause, looked at 31,575 women between 1999 and 2008. The Washington University in St. Louis researchers found on average, the women with the highest levels of designated chemicals experienced menopause 1.9 to 3.8 years earlier than the other women studied.
Certain chemicals are thought to disrupt reproductive hormones, like estrogen. More extensive research would need to be done to solidify the link between beauty products and menopause.
CEO of McDonald's stepping down
McDonald's CEO Don Thompson announced Wednesday he is retiring, effective March 1.
"It's tough to say goodbye to the McFamily, but there is a time and season for everything," he said in a statement. The 25-year veteran of the company will be replaced by Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook. After the news was announced, McDonald's stock went up three percent to $91.50. Last quarter, profits were down 21 percent to $1.13 per share, missing estimates of $1.23 per share, and revenue fell 7 percent, Forbes reports.