Egyptians Protest Government

For days now, thousands of angry Egyptians have been demonstrating in the streets of several cities including Cairo, the capital.

Riot police have been circling neighborhoods and trying to keep the violence to a minimum. Protesters are demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian 30-year-rule. They hurled rocks at police and shouted “Down, Down, Mubarak.”

Large water cannons and tear gas have been used to disperse the large crowds but without much luck with the persistent protesters.

Friday afternoons are usually the start of weekly prayers and the Muslim Brotherhood urged its followers to protest after the prayers. The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s largest opposition block.

The opposition wants to install the Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei into power. He returned home to Cairo on Thursday.

At least 1,000 protesters have been spotted in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. 15,000 further south in Suez. About 1,500 protesters were amassed in Amman, Jordan.

Facebook has also played a role in the protests with a page devoted to the demonstrations. The page has more than 80,000 followers as of Thursday afternoon compared with 20,000 on Wednesday. But, many internet servers in Egypt were down early Friday including Egyptian government sites for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and are aware that communication services, including social media, are being blocked,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. “We continue to urge Egyptian authorities to show restraint and allow peaceful protests to occur.”

Egyptian television networks and state run media have normally ignored such demonstrations or blamed them on unsavory people. However, this time government critics have been voicing their opinions on TV and even a popular morning show included comments from guests calling in for the resignation of government officials.

The protests are essentially pro-democracy. The Egyptian people are becoming increasingly frustrated with the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Snow, Snow, and more Snow

More than a foot of snow fell early Thursday and blanketed most of the Northeast. Airports are closed. Schools are closed.

New York City and the surrounding area seems to have been hit the hardest. Nineteen inches of snow fell on Central Park which ties the record for the highest total in the region. And, even before the storm, the National Weather Service estimated more than 37 inches of snow had fallen on Central Park this winter. This is almost double the winter average.

Snowfalls totaled at least one foot from Philadelphia to Boston.

Travelers should expect delays no matter what type of transportation used.

Serial Killer on the Loose in NY?

It seems there is a serial killer on the loose in New York.

Four bodies have been found buried on Gilgo Beach on Long Island. The bodies were in different stages of decomposition. One could have been there about a year. Each body was found within a quarter mile of each other. And, the injuries were “substantially similar” but the police declined any further explanation. Police said this is a clear indication these killings were done by the same person.

“It does appear to us at this time that the same person or persons are responsible for all of these murders,” Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said. “They were killed in another location and their remains were transported to the Gilgo Beach area.”

It also appears all four women worked as prostitutes and posted ads on Craigslist and other web sites.

Mr Spota said, “We believed that each of the four victims met their prearranged client or clients shortly before their deaths and their deaths are a direct result of their business as prostitutes.”

Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer is now asking pimps and prostitutes to come forward with any information they may have about these cases.

100 Car Pile Up in North Dakota

Interstate 94, near Fargo, ND, had nearly 100 cars involved in a pile up due to severe winds and heavy snowfall.

The state Department of Transportation closed I-94 in both directions between Jamestown and Fargo after the accident. North Dakota, Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a statewide storm emergency.

Some people were stranded in their vehicles for hours before rescuers could get to them, according to Cass County Sheriff’s Capt. Rick Majerus. He said, “Cars started having trouble traversing the road and ended up in a ditch, along with semi-trucks, tractor-trailers.”

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in the accident. Local police officers from Cass County said motorists were driving too fast in poor conditions.

Ski Lift Accident at Sugarloaf Mountain

A ski lift broke down at Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Maine sending riders falling 30 feet to the ground.

Several people — some of them children — were injured Tuesday after the lift derailed, sending five chairs crashing to the ground at Sugarloaf, a resort about four hours away from Boston and Montreal.

Before the accident, high winds gusting between 30 mph and 50 mph had delayed the opening of the lift. Conditions at the time of the accident were windy, but not unusually so following a major snowstorm, a spokesman for the resort said.

More than 200 people were trapped for up to 90 minutes after the derailment. The lift has remained closed while investigators look into the incident.

The derailment on one tower of the Spillway East lift happened about 10:30 a.m., when the lift’s cable skipped over the edge of a pulley. Five of the lift’s chairs fell 25 to 30 feet and hit the ground, spokesman Ethan Austin said.

The lift was built in 1975, updated in 1983 and was properly licensed and inspected for 2010, said Doug Dunbar of Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Sugarloaf had been considering replacing the lift for several years, but there was never a concrete plan until recently, when a new lift figured into the resorts capital improvement plan, Austin said.

The replacement lift under consideration would have been heavier and could handle high winds.

“We haven’t had a derailment of this magnitude in the 60 years Sugarloaf has been in operation,” said Richard Wilkinson, vice president for mountain operations.

Sugarloaf assured visitors that its lifts are inspected each day.

Snowstorm Blankets U.S. East Coast

A strong Christmas-weekend blizzard paralyzed travel along much of the East Coast on Monday, halting flights at the three New York City airports, severely disrupting schedules at many others and shut down rail lines.

Amtrak has halted service between New York and Boston, but the Philadelphia Inquirer says “trains between Washington and New York are running close to schedule.”

Even outside of New York City, nearly 1,000 other flights were grounded Sunday as weather wreaked havoc on flight schedules from the Carolinas into New England.

Charlotte, Philadelphia, Washington Dulles, Baltimore/Washington Boston were among the airports that saw at least some notable disruption of flights Sunday.

Officials urged anyone who did not have to drive to stay off roads in the region, where high winds pushed snow into deep drifts across streets, railroads and runways. More than two feet of snow had fallen in some areas by Monday morning and drivers faced hazardous travel conditions – sometimes with close to zero visibility.

In New England, many commuters appeared to be heeding the call to stay off the roads. In greater Boston, highways into the city were nearly abandoned early Monday as many workers were given the day off and others were on vacation for the holiday week.

Wind gusts of up to 80 mph knocked out power to thousands. Utilities reported about 30,000 customers were out in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, mostly on Cape Cod and south of Boston.

Chilean Miners Invited to Visit Walt Disney World

The miners who spent more than two months trapped underground in a Chilean mine are going to Disney World.

The workers, who spent almost 70 days trapped in a mine in Chile, have been invited to spend a week vacationing at Walt Disney World Resort next month.

“The amazing story of these miners captured the attention of the world for demonstrating the true power and resilience of the human spirit,” Disney President and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “We are proud to welcome these courageous men and their families to the Walt Disney World Resort.”

Disney thought it would be a great idea to invite the Chilean miners, their families and the immediate rescue workers to stay at Walt Disney World from January 27, 2010 until February 6, 2011, and Disney is going to pay for their stay. Not only that, each family that was invited to Disney is going to receive a gift card that is worth $500, that they can spend wherever they go in Disney.

To top that off, all of the guests are due to preside as celebratory Grand Marshals of a parade that makes its way down Main Street every day at the Magic Kingdom.

Disney figured that a nice, relaxing, fun and free vacation would be the perfect way for the miners, their families and the rescue workers to take their mind off of this horrible ordeal and get back to a normal way of life.

Tracking Santa Claus

Thanks to Google and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD, you can track old Saint Nick on his Christmas Eve journey around the globe.

Father Christmas has taken off from the north pole and is on his busy way to see you, according to a US and Canadian defence organization that is tracking his sleigh’s progress across the globe.

NORAD depends partly on the infrared signal from the glowing nose of Rudolph, the most famous of Santa’s reindeer and has become a children’s favorite following through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Keep in mind, Santa’s route can be affected by weather, so it’s really unpredictable,” a Norad spokesman said. “Norad co-ordinates with Santa’s elf launch staff to confirm his launch time, but from that point on, Santa calls the shots. We just track him.

Log on to Noradsanta.org and the map, which launched at 2 a.m. EST on Friday, uses little red and yellow presents to note the places Santa has already visited. Click on the presents to learn a bit about each location, like Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, where, according to the map, Santa visited at 8:16 a.m. EST on Friday.

A tiny Santa icon is used to show his current location while a countdown clock below the map lets users know where he’ll take the sleigh next.

Google Earth also shows Santa and his reindeer in action as they make their way across the globe, from Seattle’s Space Needle the to pyramids in Egypt and so on.

You can also search “Santa” using Google Maps on your smartphone, or, better yet, just ask OnStar.

“Do you have an OnStar-equipped vehicle?” NORAD asks on its official Noradsanta Twitter page. “On Christmas Eve day, press the OnStar button and locate #Santa!”

Rain and More Rain in California

The rain began falling five days ago and is expected to intensify into early Wednesday. This may not sound like much to most readers but it is certainly something to be reckoned with in Southern California where very little rain falls each year.

Half a dozen Southern California counties are under an emergency declaration Wednesday as another powerful storm from the Pacific pummels the region.

“We’re preparing for what we expect to be a very heavy, severe rainstorm …” said Mike Kaspar with Los Angeles County Public Works. “In the worst-case senario, we could be looking at as much as 8 inches more of rain in the Southern California area.”

Forecasters warned of possible rainfall rates of 0.75 inch to 1 inch an hour and thunderstorm rates of 2 inches an hour in the region.

The five-day rain total has topped 10 inches in many areas, with much heavier amounts in some locales. More than 21 inches have fallen on Twin Peaks in San Bernardino county, with Twin Creek receiving nearly 20 inches.

Downtown Los Angeles received more than a third of its annual average rainfall in less than a week.

Mudslides are a significant risk for three years after a fire and are especially likely anytime the rainfall rate reaches or exceeds 1 inch per hour, said Susan Cannon, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

That’s a likely scenario Wednesday in the area burned by last year’s Station Fire, which charred 250 square miles above the suburbs tucked below the San Gabriel Mountains.

“It means that once the heaviest rains start, it should be a very active time up there,” Cannon said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo and Tulare counties because of the storms.

EU Threatens Airports with Regulation As Snow Chaos Continues

The European Commission on Tuesday criticized airport operators in Western Europe for being ill-prepared to cope with bad weather as snow, ice and freezing temperatures continued to hamper road, rail and air networks for a fourth day, threatening Christmas plans for millions of travelers.

Europe’s transport chief said Tuesday he was considering forcing airports to provide airlines with a minimum level of infrastructure support during severe weather, such as this week’s snowstorms.

Prime Minister David Cameron said his government had “offered military assistance” to the company that operates Europe’s busiest airport and others in Britain. Heathrow said it was grateful for the offer and didn’t need the help, but still would be unable to restore full service until at least Thursday morning.

“We currently have over 200 volunteers supporting our passengers in the terminals and we have also engaged our construction contractors to assist with the clearance of snow around the airport,” a spokeswoman said.

European Union transport commissioner Siim Kallas said, “In recent days, I have become increasingly concerned about the problems relating to the infrastructure available to airlines — airports and ground handling — during this severe period of snow.”

“We need to ensure that, from infrastructure providers such as airports and rail infrastructure managers, there are appropriate service levels and minimum quality requirements that are followed and delivered,” he said.

“If there is a need for support from the European Commission in terms of regulation on minimum service requirements for airports in this area, I am prepared to do that.”

“I am frustrated on behalf of all those affected that it has taken so long for the situation to improve,” Cameron said. He promised the second runway at London’s Heathrow would reopen within hours. But with a backlog of canceled flights, Heathrow said it would be operating around one third of a normal flight schedule until 6 a.m. on Thursday.