Ex-mining boss cleared
The government yesterday dropped all charges against the former boss of a coal mine where 29 workers died in an explosion and instead accepted a financial settlement — a decision that left some of the victims’ relatives angry. The government last year charged former Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall with 12 counts of violating labor laws following the 2010 methane-fueled blast. Each count came with a maximum fine of NZ$250,000 (US$206,000). However, government lawyers said they considered the probability of convicting Whittall low given the available evidence and instead accepted his offer of a payment of NZ$3.41 million to the victims’ families. Many were unhappy with the outcome. Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died in the explosion, told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that she has lost faith in the justice system.
PM admits smacking kids
Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday said he smacked his children when they were young and warned against bans that could take political correctness “to extremes.” Abbott, who has three grown-up daughters, was commenting after the issue was raised in the first report submitted to parliament by the newly established National Children’s Commissioner. It highlights the UN’s concern “that corporal punishment in the home and in some schools and alternative care settings remains lawful in Australia.” The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child document recommends “that corporal punishment be explicitly prohibited,” but Abbott said “a gentle smack” was fine. “I think that we’ve got to treat our kids well, but I don’t think we ought to say there’s no place ever for smacks,” he said. “All parents know that occasionally the best thing we can give is a smack, but it should never be something that hurts them.”
Piloting in smog required
Aviation authorities will soon require captains of flights into Beijing to master low-visibility landings to combat chronic flight delays that have been worsened by heavy smog. Travel industry monitor FlightStats says the Beijing Capital International Airport has the worst record for flight delays of any major international airport, with only 18 percent of flights departing on time. Thick smog often cancels or delays flights when the city’s visibility goes down to a few hundred meters. An official at the Civil Aviation Administration yesterday said that the new requirement would take effect on Jan. 1, adding that the new skills would be required of all captains on Beijing-bound flights from major Chinese airports.
Transsexual is legal dad
A transsexual man, who was born a woman, has been recognized by the Supreme Court as the legal father of his wife’s child, in a national first. The court overturned earlier decisions that had rejected the man’s bid to be registered as one of the child’s parents, and said the fact that a third person’s sperm was used in his wife’s IVF treatment was not legally material. The decision opens the door for other transsexuals to gain recognition as fathers, despite their having no biological role in the conception and birth of the child. “A person recognized as a man, and allowed to change gender to that of a man under this law should be considered to be a man under other laws,” the ruling on Tuesday said. “I am very happy,” said the man, whose identity has been withheld. “I can finally become the father of my son in legal documents.”
Pussy Riot ‘hatred’ unproven
The Supreme Court has ordered a review of the guilty verdicts handed to two members of punk band Pussy Riot, three months before the pair are due to be released from prison, it said yesterday. The nation’s highest court reviewed the appeal by jailed Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and ordered the Moscow court that jailed them in August last year to review its guilty verdicts. The two young women are serving two-year sentences in penal colonies after being convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for performing an anti-Kremlin protest stunt in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The Supreme Court ruled that the “hatred” was never proven while their status as young mothers of underage children was ignored.
Skulls ‘for sale’ for US$200
A Philadelphia museum has the perfect holiday gift idea for the person who has a love of science and a dark sense of humor. A US$200 donation buys the preservation of one of 139 skulls dating back to the 19th century in a collection at the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Subtle vibrations from footsteps of museum patrons have caused the skulls to lose or crack their teeth, curator Anna Dhody said. The skulls were amassed by 19th-century Viennese scientist Josef Hyrtl to debunk the belief that the shape of a skull determines a person’s moral caliber and that different races are actually different species. “By collecting predominantly Caucasian skulls, he showed the vast degree of variation,” Dhody said. Donors can choose a specific skull to sponsor from a list on the museum’s Web site. In exchange, donors or their loved ones receive a photograph of the sponsored skull, a plaque, and their name shown next to the display for 12 months.
Aide arrested for child porn
Federal law enforcement officers on Wednesday searched the Washington home of a chief of staff for Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennnessee for child pornography. In a written statement, Alexander said that Ryan Loskarn, 35, had been placed on administrative leave without pay. “The courts will judge Mr Loskarn’s guilt or innocence, but under these circumstances he cannot continue to fulfill his duties as chief of staff of this office,” Alexander said. The Justice Department said that Loskarn had been arrested on charges stemming from the possession and distribution of child pornography. Loskarn has worked for Alexander since January last year. Before that, he was a staff director and a communications director for the Senate Republican Conference.
Cop was illegal resident
A detective for Arizona’s state police force has resigned following the discovery that she was living in the country illegally after being brought to the country from Mexico by her family at a young age. Carmen Figueroa apparently was told by her family that she was born in the US, though she was actually born in Sinaloa, Mexico, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said on Wednesday. Figueroa, 42, resigned on Monday. Arizona law requires sworn police officers to be citizens, and Graves said the state police agency would have terminated her for fraud and misrepresentation for “not meeting the qualifications.” Figueroa was with the department for 10 years and became a criminal investigations detective in 2010. He said she “had an exemplary record.”