Only in America
December 14, 2011

A suburban New York elementary school teacher faces disciplinary action for telling her second-grade class that there is no Santa Claus. After her students identified the North Pole as "where Santa lives," the teacher told them Santa was a fictional character. Most experts are agreed that Santa is real and does live at the North Pole.

Signed sealed delivered
10:30 a.m. ET

President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against people, businesses, and governments that "engage in malicious cyber-enabled activities" against the U.S.

"Cyber threats pose one of the most serious economic and national security challenges to the United States, and my Administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront them," Obama said in a statement.

The first of its kind, the sanctions program would allow the Treasury Department to freeze assets and restrict the financial transactions of those deemed to have used cyberattacks to conduct espionage or disrupt U.S. commerce. The announcement comes months after the federal government last year accused North Korea of carrying out a cyberattack against Sony Pictures.

This is incredible
10:27 a.m. ET

One New Zealand woman is living out the real-life version of the film Nebraska — but with a much happier ending.

A BMW dealership placed an advertisement in the New Zealand Herald promising a new car to the first customer to trade in their current car on April 1. Most people saw the date and assumed the ad was an April Fool's joke, but Tianna Marsh decided to take the bait.

Marsh showed up at the dealership at 5:30 a.m. to exchange her 15-year-old Nissan Avenir. The dealership gave her a new BMW that's worth almost $50,000. The best part? The license plate on the new ride reads "NoFooL."

"The ad was intentionally vague and definitely appeared too good to be true, but in this case we wanted to turn the tables and reward the first person who was willing to take the chance," BMW spokesman Ed Finn told the New Zealand Herald. The paper called the advertisement a "double-bluff."

The dealership had hired security guards in case there were riots or crowds responding to the ad, but not many people believed it was real. The company is selling Marsh's old Nissan and donating the proceeds to GoBabyGo, a charity that provides disabled children with small ride-on cars.

Today in Jersey
10:17 a.m. ET

Every so often you find one of those Wikipedia labors of love. Today's version (and no, it isn't a prank) is the article on Action Park, a famously dangerous amusement park in New Jersey. Written with great skill and attention to detail, as well as extensive sourcing per Wikipedia standards, it's a classic Jersey story. A few excerpts:

-The sleds were a large factor in the injuries. A stick that was supposed to control speed led, in practice, to just two options on the infrequently maintained vehicles: extremely slow, and a speed described by one former employee as "death awaits".

-The karts were meant to be driven around a small loop track at a speed of about 20 mph (32 km/h) set by the governor devices on them. However, park employees knew how to circumvent the governors by wedging tennis balls into them, and they were known to do so for parkgoers. As a result, an otherwise standard small-engine car ride became a chance to play bumper cars at 50 mph (80 km/h), and many injuries resulted from head-on collisions.

-[The waterslide had] a complete vertical loop of the kind more commonly associated with roller coasters. Employees have reported they were offered hundred-dollar bills to test it. Tom Fergus, who described himself as "one of the idiots" who took the offer, said "$100 did not buy enough booze to drown out that memory."

Treat yourself today and read the whole thing.

The backlash continues
9:06 a.m. ET
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

NASCAR on Tuesday joined a growing chorus of businesses to speak out against Indiana's controversial new religious freedom law that critics fear could permit discrimination against gays and lesbians.

"We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance," the auto racing organization said in a statement, adding that it was "disappointed" in the legislation and would "continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events."

Facing a mounting backlash, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) on Tuesday said his state would clarify and "fix" the law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

9:03 a.m. ET

Archaeologists have discovered a medieval hospital cemetery beneath the Old Divinity School at St. John's College in Cambridge, and they've unearthed skeletal remains from more than 400 medieval burials.

The archaeologists, who are part of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, believe the burial grounds contained about 1,300 burials. In a statement from the University of Cambridge, the archaeologists describe the skeletons as "almost perfectly preserved," despite being underground for centuries.

The bodies were from the medieval Hospital of St. John the Evangelist and date back to the 13th to 15th centuries. The archaeologists believe the cemetery was built to serve the poor, because most of the burials lacked coffins and personal items.

The team's statement notes that the cemetery's existence has been known to researchers for years, but they had no idea how large the burial ground actually was until the recent excavation.

Rest in peace
7:48 a.m. ET
Buddhika Weerasinghe/Stringer/Getty Images

Misao Okawa, the world's oldest person, died on Wednesday of heart failure, officials from her nursing home announced. Nursing home employees told NBC News that Okawa had recently begun eating less than normal, and they were concerned for her health.

Okawa, who lived in Osaka, Japan, was declared the oldest living person by Guinness World Records in 2013. She celebrated her 117th birthday in March. Okawa was married at 21 and had three children, three grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

"She went so peacefully, as if she had just fallen asleep," Tomohiro Okada, an official at the nursing home, told The Associated Press. "We miss her a lot."

Gertrude Weaver, a 116-year-old woman living in Arkansas, is now the world's oldest living person.

Israel and Palestine
7:25 a.m. ET
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

In a low-key ceremony in The Hague on Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority formally joined the International Criminal Court. Joining the ICC allows the Palestinians the right to pursue war crimes charges and other legal actions against Israel, which isn't part of the ICC, but also opens Palestinian militants to prosecution by the international tribunal.

The PA has dropped early plans to file its own charges against Israel, but the Palestinians plan to support a preliminary investigation by the ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, into allegations of war crimes by Israel in land recognized by the United Nations as belonging to the State of Palestine. That investigation will take time. "I don't want to disappoint our people," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told Voice of Palestine radio on Wednesday, "but the ICC procedures are slow and long and might face lots of obstacles and challenges and might take years."

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