November 2012


Of all the story lines to emerge from l’affaire Petraeus, surely the following three are widest of the mark:

First, the idea that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency is a victim of America’s puritanical mores.

Second, the idea that, whatever the legal fine points, an FBI investigation involving a mistress accessing an email of a CIA director does not become a de facto investigation of the director.

Third, the idea that a CIA director can have a private email account, wholly personal and separate from his job.

All extramarital affairs are human tragedies. That would be true even if this one involved a factory worker and secretary cheating, not two high-profile, high-achieving West Point graduates. The difference is that the pain and injustice are even more monstrous for the innocent spouses and children here, because their private humiliation is playing out across our front pages and television screens.

At its core, however, the scandal that felled David Petraeus has public dimensions only tangentially connected with sex. An affair that was truly private might be buried quickly and quietly. Now that the affair has been broadcast to the world—beginning with Mr. Petraeus’s own resignation statement—honor itself requires honest answers to awkward questions that affect the public trust.

These questions start with the basic: When did this affair begin? Initial reports suggested that it started in Afghanistan, where biographer Paula Broadwell spent much time with the general. Now his friends are telling reporters that the affair began after he joined the CIA in September 2011.

Let us hope this is true. We must hope so, first, because if his affair occurred while he was still in the Army, it is a crime under the uniform code of military justice. We must hope so, too, because if the affair started before he took over the CIA, the truthfulness of his statements to investigators during the run-up to his Senate confirmation might be called into question.

Ask former Clinton cabinet member Henry Cisneros or Bush Homeland Security pick Bernard Kerik about the consequences of making false statements during confirmation checks. They can be grave. At the public level, the more candid the general is about his affair, the more credible he will be when he speaks about Benghazi.

The same goes for the email. On the face of it, that a man in his position would send as much “private” email as has been reported seems extraordinary, given that every foreign intelligence service on the planet would love to know those emails’ contents. In addition, Ms. Broadwell apparently had classified documents on her computer.

The FBI says it is satisfied that these documents didn’t come from Mr. Petraeus. But they did come from someone—and it would be good to know who. We ought to know more about how exposed that information is, especially if it was traveling the world through Gmail. Quite apart from questions of sexual intimacy, we ought to know, too, whether the privileged access that Mr. Petraeus gave his biographer allowed her to get (or encouraged those around him to give her) information she ought not to have had.

Above all, Mr. Petraeus’s affair raises questions about what the general was telling Congress and the public about the mess in Benghazi that saw four Americans killed. We know Mr. Petraeus can be direct when he wishes. We saw that with the unequivocal CIA statement denying that anyone in the agency ordered anyone not to come to the aid of those under attack in Benghazi.

Less clear, alas, is the CIA involvement in the spin put out by the White House: that the attack on the consulate was the work of an out-of-control mob enraged by a video blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. News reports in the aftermath of the attack suggest that Mr. Petraeus backed the White House line when he briefed Congress.

Finally, there is Americas “unrealistic” attitude toward sex. David Gergen complained about this view on “Face the Nation” on Sunday: “I think we have to be understanding that as the saying goes the best of men are still men—men at their best.”

Depends on what you mean by being “realistic” about sex and human nature. Citizens who accept positions in government that give them access to sensitive information—myself included, when I went to work for the White House in 2005—are asked highly intrusive questions about marriage and adultery. The questions involve less moral judgment than a practical recognition that sexual intimacy is more than a physical act; it leads to emotional entanglements that can take even the most judicious of us to reckless and irresponsible places.

All of which relates to the question of the week: Given what we know now about the consulate attack in Benghazi, we need to find out whether Mr. Petraeus’s personal troubles influenced what he said to Congress. In short, America still needs to know what Mr. Petraeus’s unvarnished view of Libya was, and is.

 

*Text by “The Wall Street Journal” (Editorial); November 12, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eco Truly Park, at kilometer 63 of the Panamericana Norte, by Pasamayo, is the largest farm in South America built by a community of Hare Krishnas. Its peculiar trulys, cone-shaped constructions made with mud and organic material, invite the visitor to feel like part of nature and to get in touch with the universe.

“The trulys are a natural way of living, because in the world, there are not square things. The planet is round and spins in a circle around the sun, the seasons turn…the atoms turn, even our blood circulates through our blood to get to our heart,” says the Krishna monk. “They are constructions where the energy moves circularly and tries to separate us from this square thinking, as happens in normal homes, or notebooks or the TVs we are used to watching.”

The Hare Krishnas try to remove themselves from everything that damages nature, and they practice the philosophy of universal love and respect for everything that exists on the planet. They take a bit from all of the world’s religion and seek to enter into contact with their spirits, to serve and to worship the gods or creators of the universe, living a lifestyle that doesn’t harm anything or anyone on earth.

They are in a constant state of pilgrimage, trying to complete the work of building more communities like Eco Truly around the world, and following the teachings of their spiritual masters. Everything on the farm is done organically, from eating, growing plants, doing chores and even going to the bathroom.

It’s a perfect location to medítate, practice yoga, eat healthy and find out more about this religión or way of life. The compound offers housing and vegetarian food. If you want a different kind of weekend and, why not, to try a different way of living, visit this park on the Chacra y Mar beach in the district of Aucallama, north of the capital.


 

For more information, visit this link: 

 http://volunteeringecotrulypark.blogspot.com/

 

Is the legalization of polygamy inevitable in America? From 1965 to 2005, American courts struck down the traditional sex crimes of contraception, adultery, fornication, abortion, and sodomy as violations of modern constitutional norms of liberty, autonomy, and privacy. Traditional criminal laws against polygamy seem vulnerable to this same constitutional logic. If you add the religious freedom claims of Muslims, fundamentalist Mormons and others, the case for polygamy seems especially ripe –whether we like it or not.

Many liberals praise the nation’s rise to enlightened sexual liberty. The anti-polygamists of today, they argue, are like the patriarchs, anti-abortionists, and homophobes of the past, clutching their traditional Christian morals at the cost of true liberty for all.

Many conservatives lament the nation’s slide down the slippery slope of sexual libertinism. “State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution … bestiality, and obscenity are all now called into question,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote dissenting in the Lawrence v. Texas case that protected sodomy.

Sorting out the case for and against polygamy is complicated. But it’s not just a dialectic of modern liberty versus traditional morality. I argue that polygamy is dangerous because it harms women, children, and men alike, and will allow some religious communities to become a law unto themselves.

That’s what Western history tells us. The West’s prohibition of polygamy — unlike many other traditional sex crimes — is both pre-Christian and post-Christian. “Pagan” Roman emperors first made polygamy an “infamous” crime in 258, more than a century before they established Christianity. Enlightenment liberals disestablished Christianity, but still regarded polygamy as a betrayal of nature, utility, and fairness. Polygamy was a capital crime till the nineteenth century, and it remains a crime throughout the West today.

Western writers have long argued, and modern studies now document, that polygamy is unjust to women and children – a violation of their fundamental rights and dignity, we now say. Young women are harmed because they are often coerced into early marriages with older men. Once pushed aside for a rival co-wife, women are reduced to rival slaves within the household. They are then exploited periodically for sex and procreation by emotionally detached husbands. They are forced to make do for themselves and their children with dwindling resources as still other women and children are added to the household against their wishes. If they protest their plight, if they resort to self-help, if they lose their youthful figure and vigor, they are often cast out of their homes — impoverished, undereducated, and often incapable of survival without serious help from others.

Children are harmed because they are often set in perennial rivalry with other children and mothers for the affection and attention of the family patriarch. They are deprived of healthy models of authority and liberty, equality and charity, marital love and fidelity, which are essential to their development as future spouses, citizens, and community leaders. And they are harmed by too few resources to support their nurture, education, care, and preparation for a full and healthy life as an adult.

Men, too, are harmed by polygamy. Polygamy promotes marriage by the richest not necessarily the fittest men in body, mind, or virtue. In isolated communities, polygamy often leads to ostracism of rival younger men. Polygamy inflames a man’s lust, for once he adds a second wife, he will inevitably desire more, even the wife of another. And polygamy deprives men of that essential organic bond of exclusive marital companionship, which ancients and moderns alike say is critical to most men’s physical, psychological, moral, and even spiritual health.

The Western legal tradition has thus long called polygamy a “malum in se” offense (“bad it inself”). That category of offenses now also includes slavery, indentured servitude, obscenity, bestiality, incest, sex with children, self-mutilation, organ-selling, and more. These are activities that are just wrong — or too often foster wrongdoing. That someone wants to engage in these activities voluntarily for reasons of religion, bravery, custom, liberty, or autonomy makes no difference. That other cultures past and present allow such activities also makes no difference.

While some religious communities and their members might well thrive with the freedom to practice polygamy, it is inevitable that closed, repressive, and isolated regimes will also emerge. And this, in turn, will lead to under-aged girls being duped into sex and marriages with older men, and to women and children trapped in sectarian communities with no access to protection from the state and with no real legal recourse against a church, temple, or mosque that is just following its own rules.

We prize liberty and equality in America too highly to court such a risk.

 

Text by John Witte Jr. (W.P./Nov.9, 2012)

John Witte Jr. , is director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University , and author of a forthcoming title, “Why Two in One Flesh: The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can heterosexual men and women ever be “just friends”? Few other questions have provoked debates as intense, family dinners as awkward, literature as lurid, or movies as memorable. Still, the question remains unanswered. Daily experience suggests that non-romantic friendships between males and females are not only possible, but common—men and women live, work, and play side-by-side, and generally seem to be able to avoid spontaneously sleeping together. However, the possibility remains that this apparently platonic coexistence is merely a façade, an elaborate dance covering up countless sexual impulses bubbling just beneath the surface.

New research suggests that there may be some truth to this possibility—that we may think we’re capable of being “just friends” with members of the opposite sex, but the opportunity (or perceived opportunity) for “romance” is often lurking just around the corner, waiting to pounce at the most inopportune moment.

In order to investigate the viability of truly platonic opposite-sex friendships—a topic that has been explored more on the silver screen than in the science lab—researchers brought 88 pairs of undergraduate opposite-sex friends into…a science lab.  Privacy was paramount—for example, imagine the fallout if two friends learned that one—and only one—had unspoken romantic feelings for the other throughout their relationship.  In order to ensure honest responses, the researchers not only followed standard protocols regarding anonymity and confidentiality, but also required both friends to agree—verbally, and in front of each other—to refrain from discussing the study, even after they had left the testing facility. These friendship pairs were then separated, and each member of each pair was asked a series of questions related to his or her romantic feelings (or lack thereof) toward the friend with whom they were taking the study.

The results suggest large gender differences in how men and women experience opposite-sex friendships. Men were much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. Men were also more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them—a clearly misguided belief. In fact, men’s estimates of how attractive they were to their female friends had virtually nothing to do with how these women actually felt, and almost everything to do with how the men themselves felt—basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends. Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual. As a result, men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends.

Men were also more willing to act on this mistakenly perceived mutual attraction. Both men and women were equally attracted to romantically involved opposite-sex friends and those who were single; “hot” friends were hot and “not” friends were not, regardless of their relationship status.  However, men and women differed in the extent to which they saw attached friends as potential romantic partners.  Although men were equally as likely to desire “romantic dates” with “taken” friends as with single ones, women were sensitive to their male friends’ relationship status and uninterested in pursuing those who were already involved with someone else.

These results suggest that men, relative to women, have a particularly hard time being “just friends.” What makes these results particularly interesting is that they were found within particular friendships (remember, each participant was only asked about the specific, platonic, friend with whom they entered the lab). This is not just a bit of confirmation for stereotypes about sex-hungry males and naïve females; it is direct proof that two people can experience the exact same relationship in radically different ways. Men seem to see myriad opportunities for romance in their supposedly platonic opposite-sex friendships. The women in these friendships, however, seem to have a completely different orientation—one that is actually platonic.

To the outside observer, it seems clear that these vastly different views about the potential for romance in opposite-sex friendships could cause serious complications—and people within opposite-sex relationships agree. In a follow-up study, 249 adults (many of whom were married) were asked to list the positive and negative aspects of being friends with a specific member of the opposite sex. Variables related to romantic attraction (e.g., “our relationship could lead to romantic feelings”) were five times more likely to be listed as negative aspects of the friendship than as positive ones. However, the differences between men and women appeared here as well. Males were significantly more likely than females to list romantic attraction as a benefit of opposite-sex friendships, and this discrepancy increased as men aged—males on the younger end of the spectrum were four times more likely than females to report romantic attraction as a benefit of opposite-sex friendships, whereas those on the older end of the spectrum were ten times more likely to do the same.

Taken together, these studies suggest that men and women have vastly different views of what it means to be “just friends”—and that these differing views have the potential to lead to trouble. Although women seem to be genuine in their belief that opposite-sex friendships are platonic, men seem unable to turn off their desire for something more. And even though both genders agree overall that attraction between platonic friends is more negative than positive, males are less likely than females to hold this view.

So, can men and women be “just friends?” If we all thought like women, almost certainly.  But if we all thought like men, we’d probably be facing a serious overpopulation crisis.

 

By Adrian F. Ward  (S.A./ Oct. 2012)

Adrian F. Ward is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. His doctoral research is focused on the relationships between technology, cognition, social relationships, and self-esteem, and he worked briefly as a scientific consultant for a dating website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Superstorm Sandy’s surge halted a little more than a block from my home, mirroring almost precisely the border of two different nearby flood zones on New York City’s evacuation map. Homes, stores and warehouses closer to the Gowanus Canal at the westernmost end of Long Island—one of the most polluted sites in the U.S. as a result of an industrial legacy paired with sewage overflows in heavy rains, qualifying its bottom muck, waters and adjacent land for Superfund designation—saw basements and lower floors turned into stinking pools. The foul waters remained trapped by sandbags and other would-be antiflood precautions even the day after.

Throughout the New York metropolitan region and farther south in New Jersey,Sandy’s hurricane-force winds brought down trees and power lines, causing an estimated $20 billion or more in damage. But the more than 74-mile-per-hour winds’ most enduring impact may have been from the massive swell of water they pushed atop land, obliterating beaches, drowning boardwalks, filling subway tunnels, destroying electrical infrastructure and wrecking lives.

Although it may be hard to believe, the event could have been even more damaging. “This was not the worst case,” says storm surge specialist Jamie Rhome of theNational Hurricane Center (NHC) at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “A worst case would have been a stronger storm with the exact same track” that also came ashore at the same time as high tide. “That would have produced even more flooding,” he adds.

Yet, Superstorm Sandy’s massive flooding is already unprecedented in recent decades. According to experts, however, it is only going to become more likely in coming decades, thanks to a combination of local geography, vulnerable coastal development and already-happening sea-level rise as a result of climate change. In the future, it will not take a frankenstorm like Sandy to inundate the region. Given that reality, the best defense may be to accept the inevitability of flooding and prepare infrastructure to withstand it, as is common in other regions more historically prone to storm surge flooding.

Not the first flood
The New York metropolitan area has, of course, suffered damaging storm surges throughout its history, although most were not as severe. For example, in 1960Hurricane Donna stormed up the entire Eastern seaboard as a Category 2 tropical cyclone, boasting winds above 105 mph. Even though Donna had mitigating factors—it arrived at low tide and that storm (like last year’s Category 1 Hurricane Irene) traveled parallel to the coast rather than striking it head on—those winds pushed enough seawater into New York Harbor to cause a storm surge of more than six feet that similarly inundated parts of Manhattan.

In contrast, Sandy’s larger surge is a result of the post-tropical cyclone’s track, which saw the superstorm turn in to and then smash the coast of New Jersey, pushing a punishing wall of water in front of it into the Garden State’s coast as well as north into New York Harbor.

How do winds create a storm surge? In a tropical cyclone, air pressure is highest at the edges and low at the center. The air flows, at speeds above 74 mph, to fill that low-pressure area. In addition, the low pressure itself helps raise the sea’s level beneath it, heightening the surge where the center of the storm makes landfall. Wave action itself can also enhance the effect, adding even more height to a storm surge as the waves pile into shore one on top of the next.

 

There is another important factor in the surge’s ultimate impact: coastal geography. “Storm surge is like real estate: location, location, location,” Rhome says. In New York Harbor, the surrounding coastline acted as a funnel, channeling more and more of the incoming water into a narrower and narrower region. When a massive volume of water gets confined in that way, “it has no choice but to spill out and flood the surrounding land,” Rhome notes. And, in places where the shore gently slopes out to sea, rather than precipitously drops off, an even larger storm surge results. New York City, with some 305 square miles of area, is particularly vulnerable to storm surge because of its more than 500 miles of coastline feature small bays, inlets and other potential funnels that can channel rising seawaters far inland.

The art of surge prediction
An important part of coping with such floodwaters is knowing how likely they are to hit, and how high they will be when they do come ashore. The National Hurricane Center’s Storm Surge Unit bases its projections on the amount of water that will physically move atop land, called the “wet” line above sea level. Of course, predictions can never be perfect, Rhome (who is also a former hurricane specialist) notes of his unit, as the parameters that influence storm surge change hour to hour: precise location of landfall, strength of the winds, the angle of approach to the coast, how fast the storm is moving, how big it is, among others.

In fact, the NHC is one of the few such facilities in the world that offers multiple predictions of storm surge to help emergency planners cope. It starts with a computer model that takes into account data on the coast itself, including its contours, its depths, natural structures and man-made ones, and where the rivers enter and other factors. The computer then simulates storm surge based on input wind speeds, the speed of the storm itself and its total size, which are in turn based on the best projection of the NHC’s human hurricane specialists. That single best guess is where most storm surge predictions end.

But even the best meteorologists with the best tools and the most experience cannot precisely predict any of those things, so the NHC runs the model multiple times with multiple variations of the storm inputs, such as wind speed or the total area of the storm. The level of a storm surge can change quickly with relatively small fluctuations in such factors. “It’s very tricky,” Rhome says. “Just a subtle change in the meteorology makes a huge difference.”

For example, Hurricane Ivan in 2004 shifted its track, and its eye passed to the east of Mobile Bay rather than just to the west, where it had been expected based on forecasts. This directional change of less than 30 miles cut the actual storm surge by 10 feet, according to Rhome, pushing water out of the bay rather than into it. “Anyone who thinks they can predict landfall within 30 miles two to three days in advance doesn’t know what they’re doing,” Rhome says.

Or take Sandy, which remained only the weakest level of hurricane, boasting sustained winds above 74 mph, despite having the lowest pressure ever recorded for any storm north of North Carolina—943 millibars just prior to landfall in New Jersey. Instead Superstorm Sandy’s sheer size—with winds spread over a massive area of more than 1,000 square miles—generated the enormous surge of ocean waters. To appreciate the difference, think of a smaller storm as like running a finger through a bathtub—it won’t disturb much water—whereas a larger storm is like moving a whole arm through—you can make a significant swell.

In fact, Sandy’s sprawling wind field is still pushing water above normal levels, even days after the center of the storm made landfall.

The cost of creating better protection
Low-lying New York City, with all of its coastal development, is particularly vulnerable to those higher waters. In areas such as the Gulf Coast and eastern Florida that see more hurricane activity, flood walls, levees and even engineered wetlands help lessen storm impacts. There are proposals, for instance, to extend a dike around Galveston, Tex., to protect it from storms similar in magnitude to 2008’s Hurricane Ike.

To fully protect Manhattan would require a flood wall that is tall, long and continuous, wrapping around the island on both sides, similar to the 16-kilometer-long, five-meter-high and nearly five-meter-thick (at its base) sea wall along the Galveston shorefront. In the aftermath of Hurricane Donna in 1960, such a sea wall actually was proposed for Coney Island—but never built.

That is not to say such a wall would be a cure-all. Even if such a defense were built, the wall could also function to keep water in as well as out during severe flooding, much as happened in Galveston after Hurricane Ike. Such an approach isn’t always popular for other reasons as well: it blocks ocean views. “You also have an aesthetic issue,” notes geomorphologist Chris Houser of Texas A&M University.

In theory, nature’s protections—wetlands, forests and barrier islands—could blunt storm impacts. “It’s like a sea wall but it’s made of sand,” Houser says of barrier islands and their dunes, his primary area of research. The way that such barrier islands jut out—their convex shape—acts as a break to storm surges, compared to the funneling effect of concave-shaped bays and inlets, such as those in New York Harbor. But there isn’t sufficient available real estate around New York City to restore natural defenses such as wetlands or forests.

Blocking the effects of future superstorms will require bigger-than-natural barrier islands, in any case. In Louisiana, for example, manmade barriers will be three times higher than naturally occurring islands to shield coastal property and oil and gas infrastructure. A similarly outsized manmade barrier island would need to be raised in New York Harbor.

That leaves possibly too-expensive alternatives, such as tidal barriers like the one in the Thames River to protect London or a massive system of levees, dikes and other water control structures, such as those in the Netherlands. But the Thames Barrier cost nearly $2 billion to build and some $10 million per year to operate. That kind of tidal barrier has been a dream of some New York City planners for at least a century, or more.

Adapting to climate change
As if all that weren’t enough to manage, there’s the additional trial of coping with sea-level rise. Two major factors are at work in New York City. First, land rebounding farther north after the removal of the massive weight of Ice Age glaciers has caused the island of Manhattan itself to slowly sink. Second, at the same time, the oceans have risen by nearly three inches locally over the course of the 20th century, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. These changes will make creating long-lasting protection from storm surges even more challenging. “You’re starting from a new zero,” Rhome says. “The exact same storm is going to produce an even worse storm surge in a future time.”

The Netherlands, for example, is planning for nearly a meter of sea level rise by the end of the century, though that is at the high end of scientific projections. The Dutch plan is to both strengthen and heighten existing dikes and levees but also, as has been the practice for hundreds of years, to prepare certain areas as fail-safe flood zones, ready to be inundated when necessary.

In the future, preparing for such inevitable flooding will be as vital—if not more important—than attempting to prevent such events.  “The chance that Manhattan will get another storm surge is higher and higher,” Houser notes. Infrastructure—particularly that located below ground, such as subway tunnels and vital equipment—must be made flood ready. Basement generators or fuel tanks can be relocated, for example, and pumps in tunnels can be protected so they can later do their job of waterremoval.

That will help New York City face future superstorms, which could produce more flooding than Sandy. Fortunately for the metropolitan region, this post-tropical cyclone didn’t dump rain on the same places where it dumped seawater. Where rainfall and storm surge combine, flooding will be even worse. “Some storms see a tremendous surge at the mouth of a river at the same time as a lot of rain,” Rhome explains. “They can come together to produce incredibly damaging results.”

In fact, the New York City flood zone maps, like similar maps for municipalities across the U.S., are a direct result of off-season computer modeling to see what could happen in the worst case. So, Zone A is likely to be inundated by any tropical cyclone strength storm in the region, while Zone C requires a major hurricane boasting winds above 110 mph. “Zone C is your worst case scenario,” Rhome explains.

That is born out by hard experience here in the Zone C section of Gowanus, where even a typical northeastern rain storm produces sewage outflows into the canal and, in harder rains, can see local streets turn into rivers. Pair that with the kind of seawater surge that Superstorm Sandy produced and even more catastrophic flooding will occur. It’s a future New York City—and all coastal cities—should be preparing for now. Superstorm Sandy’s lesson, as New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo noted in a press conference on Halloween, is “the recognition that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.”

 

* Text by David Biello, Nov.7, 2012 (S.A.)

 

 

 

 

 The search for what caused a massive, deadly explosion that rocked an Indianapolis neighborhood turned to natural gas Monday, with officials checking gas lines and a homeowner saying a problem furnace could be to blame.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to check gas main and other lines serving the neighborhood where two people were killed and seven injured in the weekend blast. Local gas supplier Citizens Energy said it also was checking gas lines and a meter at the home that exploded.

But officials cautioned that it was too soon to rule out other causes, saying only that they do not believe a meth lab was to blame for the explosion that obliterated two homes and severely damaged dozens of others.

“It’s too early to speculate that this might have been caused by a gas leak,” Citizens Energy spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple said at an afternoon news briefing.

The owner of one of the homes that was destroyed said there was a problem with the furnace in the last few weeks.

John Shirley, 50, of Noblesville told The Associated Press that he received a text message within the last week and a half from his daughter, who complained that the furnace in the home where she lived with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend had broken. The malfunction had forced them to stay in a hotel, the girl said.

When Shirley asked if the furnace had been fixed, his daughter said yes. He said he wasn’t aware of any additional problems until he heard from his daughter again Sunday morning.

“I get a text from my daughter saying ‘Dad, our home is gone.’ Then I called my ex-wife and she said what happened,” he said.

His ex-wife, Monserrate Shirley, declined to comment Monday.

Scott Davis, president and principal engineer of GexCon US, an explosion investigation firm, questioned whether a furnace could cause the type of damage seen in the neighborhood. Furnaces have multiple safety triggers that prevent them from releasing that much natural gas.

“For a furnace to allow that much gas through, you’d have to defeat many of the safety features,” he said.

Investigators said it could be some time before they determine a cause for the blast that sparked a massive fire, blew out windows, collapsed ceilings and shook homes up to three miles away.

“It’s a methodical investigation. You have to move one step at a time,” said Gary Coons, the city’s homeland security director.

Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said investigators will treat the area as a crime scene until they rule out foul play.

The blast forced about 200 people out of their homes in the once-tidy neighborhood of one- and two-story single-family houses. Some have been allowed to reoccupy their homes, and others have been escorted in to retrieve valuables and other belongings. Adam Collins, the city’s deputy code enforcement director, said 29 remained uninhabitable Monday.

Mark Karnes, whose house is four doors down from the blast site and suffered severe structural damage, hoped to retrieve clothes and look for his cat. But he also questioned the wisdom of going back inside the house given the extent of the damage.

“Because the walls bowed out and separated from the ceiling, I don’t think it’s safe,” he said.

The blast flattened the house Shirley co-owns with his ex-wife and one next door that belonged to second-grade teacher Jennifer Longworth and her husband, John. Indianapolis police said Monday the bodies of the pair were found in the basement of their home, which was leveled in the blast.

A candlelight vigil was held Sunday night at the school where Jennifer Longworth teaches. Her husband’s employer, consumer electronics company Indy Audio Labs, issued a statement Monday saying it was “saddened by the loss.”

Greenwood Community Schools Superintendent David Edds said Jennifer Longworth had taught at Southwest Elementary School for 12 years. Her husband had worked at Indy Audio Labs for 10 years and was director of product development and technology, according to the company.

John Shirley said Jennifer Longworth was quiet but funny and her husband was a huge Indianapolis Colts fan who maintained a garden of beautiful wildflowers along the side of the house.

“They were just very sweet people,” he said.

Indiana real estate records show Shirley’s house had been for sale for a year until it was taken off the market in March.

By CHARLES WILSON and TOM LoBIANCO | Associated Press – Nov.12

Associated Press researchers Lynn Dombek and Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aaron Thomas would go for walks that had almost a scripted ending. He’d see a woman. His heart would race. His hands would shake. He’d approach her. He’d scare her into submission.

Then he would rape her.

Explore the timeline

Aaron Thomas is suspected of carrying out at least a dozen rapes and other attacks.

“They were objects,” Thomas said. “Whoever came down the street, an object.. . . It’s awful. It’s scary. . . . I don’t know why I couldn’t just stop.”

Thomas says he is the East Coast Rapist: the man who terrorized women in the Washington area and New England beginning in the early 1990s, culminating in an attack on three trick-or-treating teenagers in Prince William County in 2009. His crimes, which spanned nearly half his life, gripped the region with the kind of fear that comes from an unknown man, lurking in the darkness, attacking strangers who were doing such everyday tasks as walking home from work, waiting for a bus, moving out of an apartment or even sleeping in their own bed.

In hours of telephone interviews with The Washington Post from his jail cell in Prince William County, Thomas for the first time publicly acknowledged that he attacked women in several states. He said he has struggled to understand why he did it, and why he did it so many times — more than a dozen rapes by his count, although police think there were probably many more.

Thomas’s unusual pretrial confessions offer the first real picture of the man who eluded police for decades. Interviews with Thomas, his family and others close to him tell a brutal story about the troubled son of a D.C. cop who grew into a ruthless criminal. He was a doting father figure and fun-loving companion but also jealous, violent and prone to sneak out at night, when he would prey on the vulnerable and hide his actions from everyone.

He was street-smart, tough, physically chiseled and unpredictable. Thomas was also careless enough to leave his DNA at 13 different attack locations, according to police, creating a long trail that would inevitably tie him to them all. Loved ones said he hinted several times that he had done terrible things, but he was never specific and they never pressed him. Those around him didn’t put the pieces together, or they didn’t want to. So he got away with it for years.

Now, Thomas is poised to accept responsibility for his crimes. He is scheduled to plead guilty on rape and abduction charges in Prince William County on Tuesday for the Halloween attacks and in Loudoun County on Nov. 30 for a 2001 rape in Leesburg, law enforcement officials said. Thomas faces the possibility of several life terms in prison.

Thomas began his conversations with The Post with a lie. He blamed the crimes on an alter ego named “Erwin” — a character he told his family and police about after his arrest in March 2011. But Thomas eventually admitted that he was faking a split personality and that Erwin was just a name he gave to his problem.

Thomas met with psychiatrists for months as his defense attorneys prepared for an insanity defense — an argument that would center on Thomas not knowing right from wrong at the time of the rapes or having irresistible urges. But late last month, his attorneys informed the court that they would not pursue that defense.

 

By , November 10, 2012 (Washington Post)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The salaries of pastors in mega churches has been a topic of controversy in the last few years, to say the least. Whether a pastor should earn more than the average of his congregants is a touchy subject for many in the Christian church community. The perks that come with the job on top of the salary, including life and health insurance, educational benefits, housing allowances and more, can increase base salaries significantly.

Definition

  • A mega church is a non-Catholic church that has more than 2,000 congregants on the average weekend. They are usually located in suburban areas, and they often have a budget of $5 million or more. Some churches have upwards of 15,000 to 20,000 attendees. They often have more than 50 full-time staff members, and 40 to 50 percent of the churches’ budgets go toward paying salaries.

Growth

  • About 740 churches in the U.S. meet the definition of mega church today. In 1970, only 10 churches were considered mega churches. By 1990, that number had risen to 250. The average number of attendees at a mega church is over 3,600.

Salaries

  • In a report by the Leadership Network in 2010, the average salaries of pastors at 253 mega churches in 38 states and four Canadian provinces were reported. A lead pastor in a mega church can earn an average salary of $147,000 according to an article on the report by the website Christian Post. However, the salary range for lead pastors can be from $40,000 to $400,000. Executive pastors at mega churches earn an average salary of $99,000 a year. The salaries reported in the survey do not include the value of benefits, but it did include housing allowances.

Benefits

  • Medical insurance is offered in most, if not all, mega churches to full-time staff members. Some other benefits often included in the salary package of a mega church pastor include cell phone/technology allowance, retirement, life insurance, dental insurance, and disability insurance.

Tithing

  • Some mega church pastors have decided to do something called “reverse tithing.” They give 90 percent of their salaries away and live off the other 10 percent. Some mega church pastors do not take a salary at all from their churches.

Church Sizes and Locations

  • It is common for pastors of extremely small congregations to earn little-to-no salary. For those working at megachurches, or churches over 2,000 members, salaries can reach six-figures. A September 2010 Christian Post article, citing figures from a 2010 Leadership Network survey, lists the average salary of pastors of megachurches at $147,000 with salaries of lead pastors being as high as $400,000 and as low as $40,000.

    The Hartford Institute for Religion Research notes that most megachurches are located in the suburbs of cities such as Phoenix, Orlando, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas where 26 percent of families earn an average of $100,000 annually according to a June 2009 Forbes article. These churches have operating budgets of more than $5 million annually according to the Christian Post article. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research notes that the majority of megachurches are located California, Texas, Georgia and Florida. Thus, the average salary of pastors may be higher in these states.

The Million-Dollar Scale

  • Pastors of the largest megachurches earn millions of dollars annually. Joel Osteen, whose Lakewood Church in Houston,Texas has approximately 40,000 members and holds services at the Houston Rockets’ former stadium, does not accept his $200,000 a year salary because of a multi-million dollar book deal. Megachurch pastors such as Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland and John Hagee all have large television audiences and earn multi-million dollar incomes annually from book deals, nonprofit efforts and their church congregations.

* By Leyla Norman