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Will NASA's falling satellite hit you?

This conceptual image shows the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, launched on Sept. 15, 1991, by the space shuttle Discovery. Originally designed for a three-year mission, UARS measured chemical compounds found in the ozone layer, wind and temperature in the stratosphere, as well as the energy input from the sun (Credit: NASA)Unless you live with the penguins in Antarctica, it might.  NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is falling to Earth at this moment.  Pieces could land anywhere but Antarctica, any time from this morning through Saturday.  The satellite weighs more than 6.5 tons.  Around 1,200 pounds are expected to survive re-entry and land in more than 100 pieces.  The biggest will weigh around 300 pounds.

What's it like to get hit by space junk?  Let's ask Lottie Williams, the only person in history known to have the experience.  In January 1997, she and two friends were walking through a park in Tulsa, Oklahoma around 3:30 A.M. when they saw a huge fireball streaking from the skies.  It turned out to be a Delta II rocket re-entering the atmosphere.  A piece the size of a soda can struck her on the shoulder.  She wasn't injured, but the event was a bit unnerving.

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Why Bob Hope lived so long

Bob Hope (R) and wife Dolores are pictured at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, June 30, 1996 (Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser)I've been thinking about Bob and Dolores Hope since her death Tuesday evening at the age of 102.  Her husband of 69 years died in 2003, two months after turning 100.  How can we explain their longevity?

It wasn't a lack of stress.  Bob worked to support himself from the age of 12.  He starred in 52 films, appeared on television from 1932 to 1992, and made at least 199 trips to visit American troops overseas.  His career and pace were frenetic.

In such a home, humor was essential.  On his deathbed, when asked where he wanted to be buried, Bob told his wife, "Surprise me!"  On Dolores' 100th birthday, her daughter Linda claimed that laughter in their home was a prime reason for her parents' long lives.

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Michael Vick and redemption

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) is helped from the field after running into one of his teammates during their NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta, Georgia, September 18, 2011 (Credit: Reuters/Tami Chappell)Is there a more divisive name in football than Michael Vick?  His performance in Sunday night's homecoming against the Atlanta Falcons is still making headlines this morning.  When a tackler spun him into one of his offensive linemen, Vick bit his tongue and suffered a concussion.  He did not return to a crucial game his team eventually lost.  Speculation continues this morning regarding his long-term viability and injury history.

But that's not the reason fans are so divided about Mr. Vick.  Drafted first overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, he reached the Pro Bowl three times and led his team to the playoffs twice.  Then he pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal felony charges regarding his participation in an illegal interstate dog fighting ring, and spent 21 months in prison.  While incarcerated in Leavenworth, Kansas, Vick filed for personal bankruptcy protection.

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Giant snails and moral choices

The famous Giant African Snail (Achatina Achatina) is of excellent taste, and is not only very popular in Africa, but also greatly appreciated in China, Asia, Europe and the USA (Credit: creator unknown)Giant African snails have invaded our country.  They can grow up to 10 inches long and four inches wide, lay about 1,200 eggs a year, and carry a strain of non-lethal meningitis.  Other than that, they're lovable creatures.  Now they're thriving in a southwest Miami subdivision.  Why are they such a problem?  In 1966, a boy visiting Hawaii brought three of them to Miami, where his grandmother released them into her garden.  Soon there were more than 18,000 of them slithering around.  It took authorities a decade and $1 million to remove them.  Doing battle with the snails this time promises to be even more costly.

I find in this snail invasion a cultural metaphor.  A generation ago, a group of moral theorists began arguing for "relativism": morality is subjective and individual.  "Truth" is the result of our personal experiences, interpreted by our personal reasoning.  Your experiences are not mine; your understand of the world is just as valid for you as mine is for me.

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Why oil is bad for democracy

Pumpjack located south of Midland, TX (Credit: Eric Kounce via en.wikipedia.org)My wife balances our checkbook so I don't go to jail.  Perhaps she should do the same for the entire banking industry.  Swiss banking giant UBS announced yesterday that a rogue trader has caused it an estimated $2 billion in losses.  Police in London arrested a 31-year-old UBS trader named Kweku Adoboli in the alleged fraud.

I have long maintained that democracy requires morality.  Now it is becoming clearer that a free market economy requires the same.  As another example, a fascinating article in the current edition of Foreign Affairs journal argues that oil revenues are a direct enemy of democracy.  In the last three decades, countries that produce $100 per capita of oil or less per year were three times more likely to democratize as countries that produced more than that.

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