Don’t expect quick processing of your Social Security check today. Agencies throughout the federal government have closed in response to heavy cloud cover over the city, preventing the sun from shining and threatening rain. “All federal empoyees, with the exception of essential employees and national security personnel, are instructed to stay home during today’s extreme weather event,” Kevin Longley, director of personnel management for the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement today. “We expect federal agencies to resume normal operations tomorrow, although if current conditions persist, we expect to issue a revised update calling for a second day of closure.”
Both the House and the Senate are closed as well, with all but essential staff directed to stay home. “The Speaker of the House has revised today’s calendar to include postponement of scheduled legislative activity until further notice,” said a statement released this morning from the office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). A similar statement was released by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Schools throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, which typically track their schedules closely to the federal government, have closed for the day as well. It’s the sixth closure so far in 2014, and parents are not happy. “It’s a cloud cover,” says Lita Morgan, a mother of two children in the Fairfax County School District. “Luckily, my employer has closed, so I can stay home with my kids. But this is ridiculous. And worse, all of these missed days will have to be made up at the end of the year.”
“I don’t remember school ever being closed because of cloud cover,” says Hanson Bleen, a Washington accountant who grew up in Lansing, Mich. “Snow, rain, cold—it didnt matter. We always went to school.” Local officials throughout the region have been scrambling to accommodate the unusually heavy cloud cover, which has cast a grey pall over the area and pushed the temperature down to just above 50 degrees.
“It’s a little dark, it’s a bit chilly, but we think we’re well prepared for these conditions, even if they persist through tomorrow,” says District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray. “We’ve learned from the last time we had heavy cloud over. We have people on standby as needed. Everything’s ready to go.”
Terrence Clouster, a professor of psychology at George Washington University in the District, says heavy cloud cover can dampen anyone’s mood but for people with seasonal affective disorder, it’s more than just a downer. “We always see a big spike in prescription drug use when the weather turns like this,” he says. “Crisis hot lines can expect more calls from depressed people. Emergency rooms will see foot traffic climb as people come in with vague feelings of discontent. Hopefully conditions will be like this only for today, because the longer it goes on, the more people get affected by it.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says the cloud cover is pushing in from the Northeast but is expected to clear by 8 a.m. tomorrow. If that’s the case, schools in the region are likely to open without delay tomorrow. “We are anticipating it to be a regular school day tomorrow, ” says Norton Smith, superintendent of the Fairfax County School District. “Of course, we’re prepared to revise that if we need to, but that’s where we are right now.”
This is a work of satire. It is fictional news article not meant to be taken seriously
WASHINGTON—The Chinese government has reached out to the Obama administration with a proposal to buy the country’s debt of more than $17 trillion if the government would take about $5 trillion for it. “We are offering the U.S. government an opportunity to get our from under its heavy debt load, restructure its finances, and move on to a new period of prosperity,” said China’s Minister of Finance Lou Jiwei. “We say at the outset that we cannot offer less than this discount of 70 percent, because the American government has threatened to default several times in the last three years.” Lou said the Chinese government would also require that all American companies doing business in China work in partnership with Chinese companies, which would include the sharing of proprietary trade and technological intelligence. “Of course, the prohibition on Chinese companies sharing trade and technological intelligence with American partners would remain in place, as it must,” said Lou. More.
For all his popularity with tea party conservatives and libertarians, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky will never be able to establish enough trust with American voters to win the presidency, should he run, because of his tousled hair, psychologists and campaign strategists say. “Rand Paul’s tousled hair is not presidential, it’s not masculine,” says Ronald Friedman, a psychologist at Columbia University who has looked extensively at what people’s hair styles say about them. “Even worse, Paul uses a styling gel to get his tousled look, so he faces a double hit with voters. Not only do voters see tousled hair as a lack of strength, but his use of gel makes him seem vain. So, it’s not a good combination.” More.
Zack Morton doesn’t pretend he’s collecting his federal unemployment compensation, rental subsidy, and food stamps as a stopgap measure while he looks for work. No, he just doesn’t like to work and as long as the free money holds out, he has no intention of getting a job. “I hate working,” he says. “Getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth, going out in the cold, or the heat, and working all day in an office or outside or in a restaurant or something—I hate it.” Morton says he worked for a while when he was in high school, and in fact dropped out of school so he could work full time. But he didn’t like the work—it was as a clerk in a department store—and he ended up getting fired. “I think I came in late or something or didn’t come in at all. I just can’t remember,” he says. More.
Ralph Hudson says he knows he’s not doing the country any favors by exploiting wedge issues between people but the money he earns in exchange for making the country a more violent and less tolerant place is too good to refuse. “In a perfect world would I want to make our country a crappy place to live? Probably not,” says the radio veteran, whose conservative talk show is syndicated nationwide and attracts a daily audience of some 15 million listeners. “But my first responsibility is to myself, because even though I’m probably going to die in another 2o years or so, and won’t be around to enjoy it, I want to amass as much wealth as I can, and doing what I’m doing enables me to do that.” More.
The long-brewing debate over the accuracy of the psychiatry profession’s bible, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, came to a head this week as the American Psychiatric Association released the sixth edition of the 900-page book, and realized that 100 percent of Americans are now classified as having a mental disorder. “We feared this was going to happen,” says Jim Dulaney, professor emeritus at Columbia University and chair of the American Psychiatric Association. “Every time we update the DSM, more Americans fall under one of its disorders. Now we’re at the point where all Americans fall under one of its disorders, so we either have to reevaluate how we define mental illness in this country or we’re all really sick.” More.
Alarmed at a rash of high-profile data breaches at big U.S. retailers like Home Depot, a task force of scientists and engineers looking at computer safety and privacy have called on lawmakers to add 16 letters to the English alphabet. They’ve also called for the addition of three numbers to the number scale, but that recommendation was not included in the final report as task force members look at how that could be done, since the number scale is universally understood to be based on the 10-digit system and any change would be difficult to administer. More.
OTTOWA—Tired of living in the shadow of its much larger southern neighbor, Canada yesterday officially changed its name to Not USA and unveiled a new flag that government officials say is designed to tell the world that Canada is its own country and not simply a northern outpost of the United States. “Not USA has a long and proud history,” says Stephen Harper, prime minister of Not USA, formerly known as Canada. “With our new name and flag, we’re celebrating our unique place in the community of nations. People forget that Not USA defeated the United States in several key battles in the War of 1812 and beat the U.S. in the 2010 winter olympics hockey championship. What’s more, Not USA is the largest country on earth by land mass, has more ice than any other country, and is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup and moose souvenirs.” More.
Elegant British super spy and womanizer James Bond is ditching his iconic Saville Row suits and other formal wear to sport a more casual look, an MI6 spokesperson says. “Agent 007 isn’t immune to the times,” the spokesperson says. “He understands business is conducted in an increasingly casual atmosphere and that spy craft is similarly changing. I’m not saying Bond will be stepping out of his Aston Martin in anything less than a nice shirt and maybe some khakis, but when he’s just puttering around London, Paris, or New York, you might just see him in a T-shirt and jeans. I’m not saying it will happen, but you might see that. He’s a secret agent, after all.” More.
SmartCarry™ Luggage Carts are the go-to brand of carts for most homeless people, a survey released today by Brand Trust, a business-to-business trade magazine. The magazine asked 250 homeless people in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Toronto about their brand preferences when it came to luggage, grocery, or other types of carts for carrying their possessions and just under 200 said SmartCarry™ is their cart of choice. “They last a real long time,” says Arnold Sween, a homeless person in New York City. “I’ve had mine for 10 years and it still rolls good. Holds a lot, too.” More.
BEIJING—China this week released its plan to dominate the world by 2020 and also host a summit on the overfishing of red herring in the South Sea. “This is China’s century and we are determined to assert our interests globally in accordance with our stature as the one true superpower,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a news conference here yesterday. China is the world’s largest country by population, with 1.36 million people, not counting ethnic Uighurs, and the world’s second largest economy, with a gross domestic product of $16.1 trillion. That is about $1 trillion less than the United States, although that gap is expected to close within the next 18 months because of America’s declining productivity and “black president,” the plan says. More.
Saying it’s tired of sitting on the sidelines for the majority of compositions in the English language, the letter Q announced today its secession from the English alphabet and a ban on all uses of the letter Q in subsequent English compositions. The letter Q also says it’s reviewing its ties with French, German, Spanish, and other Indo-European languages, but for now, it’s willing to stay in those Latin-based languages until further notice. “For thousands of years the joke has been on the letter Q,” says the letter Q in its Declaration of Secession, delivered simultaneously to the American Library Association, the British Library, the National Library of Canada, the Oxford English Dictionary, the Webster English Dictionary, the Associated Press, and the Chicago Manual of Style. “But no more. As of today, the letter Q is not available for your use.” More.
The English Language Institute removed “utilize” and “cleanse” from the English language today as part of the organization’s long-term plan to trim the language of unnecessary words. The words were recommended for removal by the organization’s Word Removal Committee last month and approved for elimination by the board of directors today. “We grow attached to words, so it’s never easy to say goodbye to them, even when they’re unnecessary,” says Nigel Porter, president of the English Language Institute. “But for the long-term good of our language, today’s actions were necessary and long-overdue.” According to the Institute, “utilize” has long been used as a complex variant of “use,” but it was found to have no meaning beyond “use.” More.
I know part of being a fireman is washing the fire truck when you have down time, but I have to tell you honestly that I don’t really like doing it. The truck is big and it’s got a lot of accessories on it, hoses and knobs and ladders, which makes it hard to wash, but even if it were as slick as a sports car, I still wouldn’t much like doing it. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite parts of my job. More.
For the longest time I enjoyed going on walks with my master. He would give me a call, “Buster!” and when I came rollicking up, excited about what awaited us outside the walls of our house and outside the confines of our yard, he would attach my leash and off we would go. Sometimes we would go right, which I call the “Annie Poodle Route,” because Annie the Poodle lives down that way, and I always leave my calling card by the corner of her fence (along with a million other dogs!). And sometimes we would go left, which I call the “Fred the Mean Dog Route,” because Fred the Mean Dog lives down there, and you can be sure I don’t leave my calling card by his house! More.
Researchers at Oxford University have bestowed upon Canada the dubious distinction of being the most boring of the six countries that comprise what’s known as the Anglosphere: Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United States. “We think it’s important that this matter be settled once and for all,” says lead researcher Nigel Clappe, lecturer in political science and demographics at Oxford University. “Up until this point, people have been identifying the most boring country based on nothing more than their own gut feeling. And that wasn’t helping anybody.” More.
Saying it’s impossible to be mad when you skip, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for leaders around the world to take up skipping, the “hippity-hoppity” gait that comes so naturally to children. “If you remember the last time you skipped, you will no doubt remember feeling frisky and carefree,” Ban said in a statement released today. The U.N. last week passed a referendum declaring the week of Dec. 18-25 World Skipping Week, which the international organization hopes will inspire people everywhere to skip rather than fight. More.
WASHINGTON—America’s super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) is responsible for the dreaded “Heartbleed” virus that has infected servers worldwide, according to documents leaked by former U.S. security contractor Edwin Snowden. The documents show that NSA developed Heartbleed as part of its massive MYSTIC anti-terrorism surveillance operation. The virus “enables security personnel to monitor Internet traffic flowing through half a million U.S. and European-based servers,” according to a highly classified briefing NSA officials made last summer to security experts at European intelligence agencies. The briefing was part of the large trove of classified documents on NSA surveillance passed along to news outlets last year by Snowden, who is living under asylum in Russia. More.