5 to Know: India rape arrest, first lady heckled, Charles Manson protégé & more

Businessman arrested in India rape ... Michelle Obama confronts heckler ... America's 1st atheist monument ... Charles Manson protégé faces 20th parole hearing ... Giant floating head mystery solved

1. Local businessman arrested over rape of Irish woman in India

What's the story: The man accused of raping a young Irish children's charity volunteer was taken into custody on Wednesday. The man was a guest at the woman's 21st birthday party and she went to the man's house, where she drank a cup of tea and passed out. While she was unconscious, the man allegedly raped her.

Why you should know: Up until the gang rape and murder of a student in New Delhi, which sparked massive protests and focused the world's attention on the epidemic of rape in India — and how rape victims are (mis)treated, we really didn't hear much about it. Since that time, more high-profile cases have come to light. An American tourist was allegedly gang-raped. A British hotel guest recently jumped from her hotel window after the inn's owner allegedly tried to  break down her door. Whether they're citizens or visitors, one has to wonder — is India safe for women? And after a highly publicized gang rape of a tourist in Brazil, we have to wonder, is any place safe for women to travel?

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Michelle Obama confronts heckler: Michelle Obama.AP Photo: Cliff Owen, File

2. First lady heckled during speech

Get the story: A woman interrupted a speech first lady Michelle Obama was giving at a fundraiser. And FLOTUS was not very patient.  An annoyed first lady told the heckler, "Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide. You have one choice." The crowd, who'd paid anywhere from $500 to $10,000, sided with Mrs. Obama and the woman, later identified as LGBT activist Ellen Sturtz, was ejected. Sturtz was heard saying she was a "lesbian looking for federal equality before I die."

Why you should know: Though the Obama administration is now thought of as being gay-friendly, as the protestor pointed out, there aren't many protections for gay people on a federal level. And LGBT activists are still a bit peeved with the president on how slowly he "evolved" to his current, more progressive thoughts on gay rights. And that federal employment protections are still not law. Also, without federal gay marriage protection, same-sex couples miss out on many benefits, regardless of whether their marriages are legal in their home states. According to the Huffington Post: "Sturtz was calling for an executive order to bar discrimination by federal contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT groups have been disappointed that President Barack Obama has refused to issue such an order, while the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — which would prohibit such discrimination in hiring more broadly — remains stuck in Congress."
 

Get the whole story: Michelle Obama confronts heckler at fundraiser


 

First US atheist monumentDave Muscato

3. America's 1st atheist monument

What's the story: Bradford County, Fla., will soon be home to the country's first monument to atheism: a 1,500-pound granite bench engraved with quotations from founding fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. The monument is being erected after the advocacy group American Atheists sued Bradford County over the large marble Ten Commandments monument that watches over the county courthouse. In a settlement with the county, instead of taking down the religious monument, the atheists get to erect their own.

Why you should know: Are atheists the new hot thing? This bit between Wolf Blitzer and an atheist Oklahoma tornado victim sparked donations for the atheist and a groundswell of support. The separation of church and state is a principle that this country was built on, yet Bradford County's Ten Commandments statue is far from the only religious statuary on secular grounds. A painting of Jesus hanging over the entrance of a southern Ohio school was the subject of much contention after the nonprofit group Freedom From Religion Foundation called for its removal, while a federal judge recently ruled that a cross-shaped beam from the destroyed Twin Towers doesn't violate the constitutional rights of atheists. What do you think? Should religious iconography — which tends to be mainly Christian in nature — be allowed on government/public grounds?

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Charles Manson killings: Leslie Van HoutenAP Photo: Damian Dovarganes


4. Manson family member faces 20th parole hearing

What's the story: Leslie Van Houten has served 44 years for being a participant in the notorious Tate-Labianca murders committed by members of the Charles Manson family. Van Houten was just 19 years old when she was incarcerated. And while prosecutors admit she didn't actually kill anyone, they plan to launch a vigorous campaign to deny her upcoming 20th bid for parole.

Why you should know: While the murders were horrific, actual murderers in lower-profile cases are paroled after far less time than 44 years. As one of her few high-profile allies, filmmaker John Waters, pointed out in his book "Role Models":  "The two other female death-penalty cases at the time besides the three ‘Manson girls,' also murderesses with very serious cases, were paroled eight or nine years later with little fanfare or outrage." Is Van Houten, who long-ago renounced any association with Manson, being denied parole just because her case was so high profile? Or is this woman in her mid-60s still a danger to society? Should we all be wearing "Free Van Houten" T-shirts now?

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Giant floating head in Hudson RiverAP Images

5. Mystery of giant floating head found in Hudson solved

 

What's the story: Since a Marist College crew team first spotted a giant Romanesque head bobbing its way down the Hudson River, its origins have been open to speculation. Some claimed the 7-foot-tall sculpture was a refugee from Mardi Gras. Others said it was a cast-off from an upstate theater company. The latest theory is that the giant noggin once decorated the lawn of Meredith County couple Louis and Kimberly Moses. Since we couldn’t reach either Moses for comment, the mystery remains.

Why you should know: First we had the giant inflatable duck floating through Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor as part of an art project, now this giant head in the Hudson, origins unknown. The artist responsible for the big rubber duckie, Florentijn Hofman, said, "I see it as an adult thing. It makes you feel young again. It refers to your childhood when there was no stress or economic pressure, no worry about having to pay the rent." So should we write this big head off as an interesting accident or should we take a minute and look for more meaning behind it?

Get the whole story: Giant floating head found in Hudson is couple's missing sculpture