Blog Posts by Eric Pfeiffer

  • Japan creates new national holiday for ‘overworked’ population

    Japan's Mount Fuji (AFP)

    Around this time each year, millions of Americans are enjoying a three-day weekend heading into Memorial Day.

    It’s one of just 10 national holidays for a country that prides itself on a world-renowned work ethic.

    But in Japan, the government just unveiled its 16th national holiday. Does that make Japan a holiday-happy nation compared with the U.S.? Not exactly.

    Officially beginning on Aug. 11, 2016, Mountain Day was ostensibly created to recognize Japan’s culturally significant mountainous regions. But The Diplomat reports that the holiday was actually most likely created to put a dent in Japan’s “overworked” population, which largely refuses to use its government protected vacation time. A recent Wall Street Journal article says the average Japanese worker only uses 8.6 of his or her paid vacation days each year.

    "In Japan, there is of course paid vacation, but people don't take it," Seishiro Eto, a member of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, which led support for the new holiday,

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  • Red Cross: More than half of Americans can’t swim

    World Champion Christian Sprenger of Australia swims during a swimming clinic for children with special needs on the rooftop pool of the Marina Bay Sands resort hotel in Singapore (Roslan Rahman/AFP)

    Heading into the Memorial Day holiday weekend, millions of Americans will go for a swim in the nation’s oceans, lakes, rivers and, of course, swimming pools.

    But the Red Cross says that more than half of all Americans (54 percent), and two-thirds of African-Americans (67 percent), cannot meet a basic set of water safety standards.

    Simply put, most Americans can’t swim.

    “Our goal is to cut drowning rates by 50 percent over the next three to five years,” Connie Harvey, director of the Red Cross' Aquatics Centennial Initiatives, told Yahoo News during a phone interview.

    To achieve that goal, the Red Cross is launching training programs in 50 cities across 19 states, reaching an estimated 50,000 individuals. It has also launched a swim app for families that want to track their progress as they learn to swim.

    Today’s drowning statistics might not sound that alarming on the surface: just 1.3 deaths out of every 100,000 individuals. But that translates to around 3,600 drowning deaths each

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  • Pat Sajak calls global warming activists ‘unpatriotic racists’

    Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak is seen during batting practice before a spring exhibition baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates in Sarasota, Fla., Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

    Game show host Pat Sajak caused a major uproar in social media circles on Tuesday, writing on Twitter that “global warming alarmists are unpatriotic racists knowingly misleading for their own ends.”

    The longtime “Wheel of Fortune” host has been outspoken about his political views for several years, and has donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, but his opinions have never before really interfered with his day job.

    First posted on Monday, the hyperbolic attack was a trending topic on Twitter by late afternoon and has been picked up by major news organizations, including The Washington Post.

    Left-leaning website The Raw Story pointed out that Sajak has been a longtime critic of climate-change science and has written about the issue in the conservative publication Human Events. Earlier this month, Sajak fired another

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  • Boy Scouts rescue Ann Curry after TV journalist is hurt on hiking trail

    The Boy Scouts from Troop 368 who helped rescue Curry (Scouting Magazine)

    In her role as NBC journalist, Ann Curry has reported from some of the world’s hot spots, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Darfur. But when she experienced an unexpected injury on a New Jersey hiking trail, Curry found herself assisted by the Boy Scouts of America.

    Writing in Scouting Magazine, Bryan Wendell says Scouts from Berkeley Heights encountered Curry on a trail in Harriman State Park in New York. Curry, 57, had broken her ankle.

    “We were hiking along, and we came to a trail intersection,” Scouter Rick Jurgens said, “and a lady was sitting on the ground with her one leg out. We didn’t think anything of it, but one of the guys asked if everything is OK. She said, ‘No, not really. I think I broke my ankle.’ She told us to keep going, but the guys refused.”

    Although Jurgens said he recognized Curry’s voice instantly, his scouts had no idea it was the famous TV journalist. Regardless, they went to work creating a splint for Curry.

    “We work on these requirements, and here’s an

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  • Amanda Knox maintains innocence in new interview: ‘I did not kill my friend’


    In a new interview, a young American convicted by an Italian court of killing her former roommate said that she was falsely accused.

    "I did not kill my friend. I did not wield a knife. I had no reason to," Amanda Knox told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday night.

    "In the month that we were living together, we were becoming friends,” Knox said. “A week before the murder occurred, we went out to a classical music concert together. ... We had never fought."

    The then 19-year-old Knox and two of her friends were convicted in the murder of British student Meredith Kercher while the pair shared an apartment in Perugia, Italy. Knox spent four years in an Italian prison before being released in October 2011 when a judge threw out her prior conviction. However, she was convicted again in a subsequent trial and faces 28 years in prison if she loses her ongoing appeal.

    Knox, now 26, gave her first interview since January, when she was reconvicted by an Italian court in the death of Kercher. Knox

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  • New video emerges from inside South Korean ferry as ship sank


    A heartbreaking new video taken inside a capsized South Korean ferry shows that students were told to stay in their cabins even as the ship’s crew and captain fled to safety.

    The video was shot on the phone of Park Su-hyeon, 17, whose body was recovered from the vessel by South Korean coast guard rescuers. The video was released to South Korean television by the boy’s father, Park Jong-dae, as part of an effort to show the public how things went wrong about the ferry.

    In the video, a number of the student passengers can be overheard expressing their fears about the ship’s fate. But at the same time, other passengers appear unaware of the gravity of the situation aboard the Sewol.

    “This looks like the end,” one teenage passenger says in a translation provided by the New York Times . Another asks, “Are we becoming a Titanic?” In a separate translation provided by CNN, another passenger asks, “"You think I'm really going to die?"”

    Ninety-two passengers are still reported as missing

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  • Most young voters plan to sit out midterm elections, new poll finds

    Barack Obama's campaign used social media to drum up support from young voters in 2008. (The Week)

    A new poll of America’s youth finds that three-quarters of voters aged 18-29 plan to sit out the 2014 midterm elections, a significant drop compared with recent years.

    The Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) poll found that just 23 percent of younger voters said they would “definitely be voting” in the midterm elections, an 11-point drop from a similar poll conducted in December.

    Those results could be problematic for Democratic candidates, who have benefited from a surge in the youth turnout, particularly during President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

    “There’s an erosion of trust in the individuals and institutions that make government work — and now we see the lowest level of interest in any election we’ve measured since 2000,” IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe said in a statement. “Young people still care about our country, but we will likely see more volunteerism than voting in 2014.”

    Though overall youth turnout appears set to decline, young Republican voters are more

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  • Study: Nearly half of all homeless men suffered brain injury before losing homes

    Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic (St. Michael's Hospital)

    A new study is shining light on the origins of homelessness, finding that nearly half of homeless men have suffered a traumatic brain injury and that nearly all of those injuries occurred before the men became homeless.

    The St. Michael’s Hospital study found that 45 percent of the homeless men who participated in the research had suffered some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). And amongst them, 87 percent of their brain injuries had occurred before the men became homeless.

    “You could see how it would happen,” said Dr. Jane Topolovec-Vranic, who led the study. “You have a concussion, and you can’t concentrate or focus. Their thinking abilities and personalities change. They can’t manage at work, and they may lose their job, and eventually lose their families. And then it’s a negative spiral.”

    The results closely mirrored a similar study released last week, which found that about half of all men entering New York’s jail system aged 16-18 reported suffering a TBI before they were

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  • How to prepare for a tornado

    A large TVS (tornadic vortex signature) thunderstorm supercell passes over storm chaser Brad Mack in Graham, Texas late April 23, 2014 (Reuters).

    The National Weather Service forecasts that a series of severe tornadoes and thunderstorms is likely to hit the South Plains this weekend, affecting areas from Texas to Tennessee.

    Veterans of extreme weather can tell you there are some basic steps when preparing for a potentially catastrophic event such as a tornado: shelter, food, your address book and, now, a tornado app.

    “The data shows that unfortunately a lot of people still don’t know what to do when a tornado or other extreme weather hits,” Russ Paulsen, Red Cross executive director of community preparedness, told Yahoo News. “Preparedness can literally mean the difference between life and death.”

    The Red Cross recently debuted its Tornado App, which you can download for free on the iPhone or Android devices. The app is meant to be an all-in-one resource, including a to-do list of reminders in advance of a tornado strike. But the coolest feature has to be the app’s siren, which emulates an actual tornado siren.

    “It’s actually

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  • Art critic shames James Franco’s new photo exhibit in epic takedown

    James Franco in a photograph from his new exhibit (Pace Gallery)

    New York Times art critic Roberta Smith has a wish for James Franco: “that someone or something would make him stop.”

    The actor and multitasking artist was singled out by Smith after seeing his new photography exhibit, “New Film Stills,” which debuted at the Pace Gallery. In the exhibit, Franco dresses in various stages of drag in a detailed homage to Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills.”

    “Perhaps James Franco should just stick to acting,” Smith writes. “He remains embarrassingly clueless when it comes to art.”

    Franco is no stranger to the art world. The Academy Award-nominated actor’s seemingly insatiable and prolific palate includes forays into soap opera acting as the eponymous character “Franco,” fiction writing (“Palo Alto: Stories”), art installations and a full-length “reimagining” of Al Pacino’s 1980 film “Cruising,” which examined underground gay culture. Even in his mainstream comedy hits such as last year’s “This is the End,” Franco has been quick to lampoon his own

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