US dashes hopes of its own Death Star… for now - 10 Things

Good news, people who yearn for Australia to take its proud place in the world tallies of gun deaths: Australia's levels of privately-owned weapons have reached the same number - around 3.2 million - as in 1996, when new laws and a compulsory gun buy-back were instituted by the Howard government in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre. This heartwarming fact came to light thanks to a study by the University of Sydney, with adjunct associate professor at the school of public health Philip Alpers pointing out that the weapons are not the mass-murderer-approved semi-automatics, which remain illegal here, but chirpily adding that "the great majority of gun deaths are domestics and suicides." Happy Monday, everyone!

Democracy enthusiasts, rejoice! The White House have confirmed that they currently have no plans to build an armed and fully operational spacefaring battle station. The US government have a policy of giving an official answer to any petition on We The People which gets more than 25,000 signatures in 30 days, which is why Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, gave an official response to the call that the US  "secure funding and resources, and begin construction on a Death Star by 2016", which would "spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense." In a response nerdfully titled "This Isn't the Petition You're Looking For", Shawcross rather charmingly pointed out that a) the Death Star had been costed at $US850,000 billion and "We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it, " b) "The Administration does not support blowing up planets," and c) "Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?" Touché, Shawcross.

Expect the internet to collapse under recordings of the unknown Johnny Cash song 'I Have the Wine' after Natasha Holly, a contestant on the US's venerable gameshow Wheel of Fortune attempted to solve the puzzle "I -A-- THE -INE BY J-HNNY -A-H" and apparently had never heard Cash's best known song or heard anything about a similarly-titled biopic. It should also be pointed out that H and E were already on the board - Jesus, Holly, you might not know country music, but have you even watched this game before? 

We know you're worrying, so let's reassure you about the state of Venezulan president: Hugo Chávez: he's totally fine and stop saying that he's slipped into a coma in a Cuban hospital where he's undergoing treating for aggressive cancer. His brother Adán Chávez, governor of the state of Barinas and person without any possible reason for saying anything but the bald, unvarnished truth, issued an official statement that "The head of state continues to assimilate treatment well and his recovery is advancing daily," though he failed to add that the reason that his bro failed to attend or even send a message of support to his people on Thursday, when he was meant to be sworn in as president after winning last year's election, was he was bike riding around Cuba fighting crime, so healthy is he. The Venezulan opposition parties are calling for a new election, which will be triggered should Chávez die, step down or get so healthy that he decides to stay in lovely Cuba forever since it's just so gosh-darn nice this time of year.

Another six men have been arrested after yet another gang rape in India last Friday, this time on a bus in Punjab. The unnamed victim was the only passenger on board the bus and was driven to a remote location after the driver refused to drop her off in her village, instead taking her to a building where he, the conductor and five other men reportedly raped her through the night before dropping her back on Saturday morning. While India has a rich history of allowing terrifying violence against women, it's not a great time to be a rapist there: widespread national protests have demanded harsher sentences for sexual assault and five of the six men arrested for the gang rape of a still-unnamed woman in New Delhi (who subsequently died of her injuries) are possibly facing the death penalty if convicted.

Sources close to Lance Armstrong are reporting that the lifetime anti-steroid user and hater of steroids who - as everybody knows - never took steroids ever and what are you even mentioning steroids for, is set to confess to maybe a little bit of career-long steroid use to humanity's mother, Oprah Winfrey. In the lead up to today's interview, which is set to be televised on Thursday in the US, he told reporters "I've assured her that I want her to go deep with her questions," as he wrapped a piece of rubber tubing around his arm, "and I'm going to answer those questions openly, honestly and with [steroids]. And, quite frankly, I'm looking forward to [steroids]." He then roared at the top of his lungs, tore a phone book in half and leapt though a window, heading toward Mexico at top speed. If he does confess to using prohibited substances he might be able to get his lifetime ban reduced - but it would open him up for a number of lawsuits (including one that he used the US mail service to transport illegal material). But you shouldn't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Justin Bieber's descent continues apace, with news that he allegedly punched his bodyguard coming hot on the heels of his terrifying occasional use of marijuana at a party, allegedly. Bodyguard and former Israeli serviceman Moshe Benabou is alleging that Bieber punched him several times in the chest before firing him, which Bieber's representatives claim is "absurd". And rightly so: just look at him! You get hit by Bieber, man, and you don't get up again. Dude's a mountain.

Fire continued its endless battle with astronomy over the weekend and later today we will know the fate of Australia's largest telescope - the Siding Spring Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring, near Coonabarabran - after   a bushfire lead to an evacuation of the facility yesterday. It's thought that the telescope has suffered damage, but not being completely gutted (as per the Mount Stromlo Observatory, which was destroyed by fire in 2003), but either way: bad news for lovers of science. 

You know that awesome idea to mint a one off trillion dollar coin as a way of sidestepping the "debt ceiling" in the US, as advocated by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman among other, less sane, adherents? Well, it ain't happening: not only has Obama nixed the idea, the US treasury have confirmed that they wouldn't accept such a coin as legal tender in any case. You just know that's not stopping a thousand wanna-be screenwriters making this the basis of their heist movie, though.

And finally, Glenn Beck - former Fox host, crazy person and defender of a noble self-sufficient American past that didn't actually exist - has announced plans to build a Libertarian commune (those two words just seem wrong together) in Texas, estimated to cost about US$2 billion, as his own media empire and personal fiefdom in the vein of 'Galt's Gulch', the fictitious community in Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'. "At the center -- in the middle of the lake that is itself larger than all of Disney Land - Beck (with the help of David Barton) will create a massive 'national archive'/learning center where people can send their children to be 'deprogrammed' and elected officials can come to learn 'the truth'" the Dallas Observer reports. And what have learned from this nest of crazy? Someone at the Dallas Observer sure does like scare quotes, don't "they"?
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