Category Archives: news

Large scale privacy invasion by NSA

This story comes from Eduard Kovacs. I believe it originally comes from the Intercept, if it’s true it is truly scary.

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher have published another report based on information stolen by Edward Snowden from the US National Security Agency. The latest report highlights the technologies that enable the intelligence agency to perform “industrial-scale exploitation” of computer networks.

It turns out that the NSA has automated processes in place that enable them to plant malware on millions of computers worldwide. Documents obtained by Snowden show that the British intelligence agency GCHQ has played an important role in developing these systems.

The NSA’s tactics are similar to the ones used by cybercriminals. In some cases, it has set up a fake Facebook server and has used the social media website to distribute a piece of malware capable of stealing data from infected computers.

The agency has also relied on spam campaigns to distribute software capable of recording audio and taking pictures via the computer’s webcam.

In 2004, there were around 100-150 malware implants. However, as the Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit recruited hackers and developed new tools, the number of implants reached tens of thousands.

Since it’s impossible to manage the malware implants manually, the NSA has developed a solution called TURBINE. This system is capable of managing active implants, enabling the agency to conduct “industrial-scale exploitation.”

TURBINE is said to be part of a broad NSA surveillance initiative dubbed “Owning the Net.” And in case you’re wondering how much money goes into the project, the NSA has requested a $67.6 million (€48,6 million) budget for it last year.
There is a wide range of implants utilized by the NSA. For instance, UNITEDRAKE is used to gain complete control of a device.

UNITEDRAKE has a number of plug-ins, each designed for a specific purpose. CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE is for recording conversations via the computer’s microphone, GUMFISH is for Continue reading Large scale privacy invasion by NSA

Oakland: the city that told Google to get lost | Technology | The Guardian

Great story from today’s Guardian newspaper. I also heard it on BBC radio 4’s Today programme this morning. Apparently there’s been a local backlash to hundreds of Google employees using local bus stops in Oakland…then being picked up by the private Google bus. Actually I think this story is really about poorer people detecting privilege and then feeling hard done by. That’s human nature for you.

If pushing your enemy into the sea signifies success, then Google’s decision to start ferrying workers to its campus by boat suggests the revolt against big technology companies is going well. Standing on the docks of Oakland, on the east side of San Francisco Bay, last week, you could watch the Googlers board the ferry, one by one, and swoosh through the chill, grey waters of the bay towards the company’s Mountain View headquarters, 30 or so miles to the south.

The Google boat coming in. Oakland

Not exactly Dunkirk, but from afar you might have detected a whiff of evacuation, if not retreat. The ferry from Oakland – a week-long pilot programme – joined a similar catamaran service for Google workers in San Francisco launched last month. The search engine giant is not doing it for the bracing sea air. It is a response to blockades and assaults against buses that shuttle employees to work.

Many fear fresh attacks. A young software designer waiting for a Google bus on the corner of seventh and Adeline street in west Oakland flinches when I approach him. A few weeks earlier, activists here slashed tyres and hurled rocks through windows. Since then a police car has kept watch, but the Googler remains wary. “A reporter? Can I see some ID?” He scrutinises my press card and sighs. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. Anarchists are driving this.”

An eclectic range of motivations are behind the wider backlash against technology companies in their Bay Area home turf as well as globally. Fair-tax campaigners complain that they abuse their clout in order to dodge payments and rewrite rules in their favour. Privacy advocates say they pillage customers’ data and facilitate, willingly or not, government mass surveillance. Others accuse them of worsening inequality by enriching plutocratic backers.

Bay Area activists started targeting the fleets of air-conditioned, Wi-Fi-equipped buses last year as symbols of tech-driven gentrification, a process which is fuelling rent increases and evictions. The protests made headlines around the world, seeding hope in some circles, and anxiety or even panic Continue reading Oakland: the city that told Google to get lost | Technology | The Guardian

Chinese Implicated in Agricultural Espionage Efforts

This interesting  piece is from The New York Times . We tend to think of China as an industrial thief of other peoples’ intellectual property but apparently  it now crosses over into pastures new…..

 

Corn seedlings in a research greenhouse at Pioneer Hi-Bred, a subsidiary of DuPont, in Johnston, Iowa. Daniel Acker for The New York Times

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The case of the missing corn seeds first broke in May 2011 when a manager at a DuPont research farm in east-central Iowa noticed a man on his knees, digging up the field. When confronted, the man, Mo Hailong, who was with his colleague Wang Lei, appeared flushed. Mr. Mo told the manager that he worked for the University of Iowa and was traveling to a conference nearby. When the manager paused to answered his cellphone, the two men sped off in a car, racing through a ditch to get away, federal authorities said.

What ensued was about a year of F.B.I. surveillance of Mr. Mo and his associates, all but one of whom worked for the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group or its subsidiary Kings Nower Seed. The result was the arrest of Mr. Mo last December and the indictment of five other Chinese citizens on charges of stealing trade secrets in what the authorities and agriculture experts have called an unusual and brazen scheme to undercut expensive, time-consuming research.

China has long been implicated in economic espionage efforts involving aviation technology, paint formulas and financial data. Chinese knockoffs of fashion accessories have long held a place in the mainstream. B Continue reading Chinese Implicated in Agricultural Espionage Efforts

Fury as experts say Ecstasy is harmless | Mail Online

I have been having this long (and interesting) debate with my teenage daughter about whether or not drugs should be legalised. She is adamant that MDMA is harmless. The Daily Mail think otherwise…..

one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
molly, e, mdma: one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small

Controversial claims that Ecstasy may not be dangerous and that its adverse effects could be imaginary caused outrage yesterday.
A research team criticised ‘biased’ studies which said the drug causes long-term brain damage and mental problems.
But other experts and parents of Ecstasy victims were horrified by the claims, made in The Psychologist magazine, pointing out that dozens of people die after taking the drug every year.
Paul Riddell, whose 23-year-old son Graham died last year after taking the drug, said their conclusions are ‘ridiculous’.
‘Ecstasy boils the blood and organs,’ said Mr Riddell, 48, of Normanton, West Yorkshire.
‘If it is doing that to the organs, what is it doing to the brain? My son lost his life after taking it on a night out – how can it possibly not be dangerous?’
In July, the Daily Mail told how deaths from the Class A drug have doubled to 56 in the past year, with some young people dying after a single tablet.
The shocking figures, compiled by the independent drug monitoring unit at St George’s Hospital in London, came as Ecstasy claimed its youngest victim, ten-year-old Jade Slack, from Lancaster. She accidentally swallowed five pills she found at a friend’s house.
But researchers Dr Jon Cole and Harry Sumnall, of Liverpool University, and Professor Charles Grob, a director in psychiatry at the Harbor-UCLA medical centre in California, claim the adverse effects of Ecstasy could be imaginary and brought about by the widely held belief that the drug causes long-term harm.
They say this belief has come about through flawed research.
They say that many psychological problems begin in adolescence anyway, Continue reading Fury as experts say Ecstasy is harmless | Mail Online

Nokia CEO speaks out with uncanny lucidity

This was published yesterday from an internal memo to Nokia employees from Chief exec Stephen Elop about abrupt changes in the fast moving world of the smart phone. Brilliant stuff. Found on a blog called iClarified.

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you what I’ve heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And, we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

For example, there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed, but very powerful ecosystem.

In 2008, Apple’s market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

And then, there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high-end, they are now winning the mid-range, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry’s innovation to its core.

Let’s not forget about the low-end price range. In 2008, MediaTek supplied complete reference designs for phone chipsets, which enabled manufacturers in the Shenzhen region of China to produce phones at an unbelievable pace. By some accounts, this ecosystem now produces more than one third of the phones sold globally – taking share from us in emerging markets.

While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, “the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.” They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

And the truly perplexing aspect is that we’re not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we’ve lost market share, we’ve lost mind share and we’ve lost time.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s informed that they will put our A long term and A-1 short term ratings on negative credit watch. This is a similar rating action to the one that Moody’s took last week. Basically it means that during the next few weeks they will make an analysis of Nokia, and decide on a possible credit rating downgrade. Why are these credit agencies contemplating these changes? Because they are concerned about our competitiveness.

Consumer preference for Nokia declined worldwide. In the UK, our brand preference has slipped to 20 percent, which is 8 percent lower than last year. That means only 1 out of 5 people in the UK prefer Nokia to other brands. It’s also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE, and on and on and on.

How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally.

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.

Stephen.

Irish couple owe €800m to banks after property spending spree

Interesting little article which came out yesterday in the Guardian – especially as many first time buyers are struggling to get a small mortgage.

A lawyer and his doctor wife who blazed a trail through Ireland’s property boom on the back of colossal credit – buying up several London trophy buildings on the way – now owe more than €800m (£670m) to banks around the world, it has emerged.

The eye-popping scale of Brian and Mary Pat O’Donnell’s debts has been laid bare in a court case brought by Bank of Ireland in relation to some €70m (£58m) in debts it is trying to recover.

The couple, from Killiney, county Dublin, are fighting the case and say the bank is trying to make them sell one of their prime London assets – Sanctuary Buildings, used by the Department for Education and Skills – without legal entitlement.

The office block is just metres from the Houses of Parliament and was the first of many audacious moves made by the solicitor and his wife into the property market at a time when Ireland’s banks were making huge loans that have since brought the country to its knees and forced Dublin to accept a bailout from the EU and IMF.

The Bank of Ireland loaned the O’Donnells €26.7m towards the £170m purchase price in 2006. The couple then went on to expand their empire to Stockholm, where they bought the city’s biggest office block, Fatburen for €285m.

In April 2008, when the worldwide credit crunch was beginning to bite and had already claimed the likes of Bear Stearns in New York, the couple were still able to access funds.

With the strength of the euro in their favour, the O’Donnells managed to outbid a group from Dubai to pay a record $172.5m (£87m) for an office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, just a few blocks from the White House.

This was what the O’Donnell’s Vico Capital described as “trophy class” with “sweeping views of the White House, the Monuments and the Potomac River”. Its tenants included a law firm and a merchant bank and it was described in the local property press as a smart buy.

Vico Capital set a record, paying $867 (£436) for every square foot of the their Washington investment. The previous record in the American capital was $827.

Arguably, even more audacious was the acquisition of two buildings in London’s Canary Wharf – the purchase of 17 Columbus Courtyard in 2005 for £125m and 15 Westferry Circus for £140m. The first building is home to Credit Suisse and the second to Morgan Stanley.

For years, it probably seemed nothing could go wrong. The O’Donnells live in a clifftop home in one of Ireland’s most salubrious suburban roads and count the U2 frontman Bono among their neighbours.

The O’Donnells’ rise in the property sector mirrors that of dozens of other investors who got sucked in during the Celtic Tiger years when credit was cheap and capital yields, or profit on buildings, meant millions could be made, often in just a number of weeks.

But unlike many other middle-class professionals of their ilk who dabbled in the property market with a few buy-to-lets, this couple became major players and amassed an international property portfolio of more than €1.1bn (£921m) with a rent roll of some €150m (£125m).

They are, however, a low profile couple, and are aghast that their private financial affairs are now being made public. It is understood that as recently as last weekend, they tried to get a court approved mediation process underway.

“Most people in Dublin wouldn’t know what they looked like. They are an extremely private family and would have hoped to have continued to conduct their business in private,” said a source close to the couple.

Their case is the latest in a series of court actions being instigated against property developers now bearing the brunt of Ireland’s financial collapse.

According to informed sources there are two other private investors in the O’Donnells’ Sanctuary Buildings in Westminster and there are concerns that the court case will lead to “value destruction”. However the O’Donnells are determined to tough it out and have been given three weeks to put together a case for a fuller court hearing.

O’Donnell, 58, is one of Dublin’s leading commercial lawyers and ironically is on a list of 64 potential legal advisers approved by Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency – the new state bank which has been charged with clearing the mountain of bad debt amassed by property developers during the good times. Nama said O’Donnell had not been used in any case.

His practice, Brian O’Donnell solicitors, has the usual run of commercial expertise including mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, insolvency and tax structuring. His practice, however, is not high profile in the media.

He first diversified into a serious property business back in 1999 and, with access to funds from a string of banks including Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and Anglo-Irish, made his audacious moves in London, Scandinavia and the US.

Ten years later he and his wife, now 56, who are relatively low-key on the Dublin social circuit, were listed on the Sunday Times Rich List – 178th richest in Ireland, alongside another, more high profile property investor Derek Quinlan.

Quinlan, a former tax inspector who also caught the property bug, ended up with the crown jewels of London’s hotel and retail trade including the Savoy Hotel, Claridges and a retail block between Harvey Nichols and Knightsbridge in London.

Sales of ebooks outstrip hardbacks on US Amazon for the first time

Today the Guardian published an article from the head of Penguin books, John Makinson – a man with an interesting career path, more varied than most in the publishing world – showing that the growth of ebooks seems to be following the same path as, say, digital music or digital movies. Me, I still got my vinyl, still got my books. As I said my colleague Andrew earlier today with books I like the navigation….

John Makinson says that if people want to read using new technology, that’s what publishers must give them

Penguin this week celebrates its 75th year and is marking the anniversary by repackaging a series of seminal books from the 1960s to the 1980s. Although the company might afford itself a brief look backwards, it feels as though there is little room for nostalgia in book publishing now, as the industry turns its face firmly – and apprehensively – to the future.

Amazon last week announced sales of ebooks on its US site had outnumbered hardbacks for the first time, stunning casual observers, even if it had not been entirely unexpected in the trade.

The launch of the iPad has added a sense of urgency. Where music went first, books are set to follow, although Penguin and other publishers would hope without the same devastating effects. Amazon this week launched a cheaper, more lightweight version of its Kindle ebook reader and a digital store on its UK site, while others, including Google, are muscling in. Digital book sales are still less than 1% of Penguin, but the direction of the market is clear. In the US, digital books already account for 6% of consumer sales.

Penguin chief executive John Makinson says he is a convert. The day after we meet he is on his way to India, as part of David Cameron’s delegation, and had loaded titles on to his iPad, including a manuscript by John le Carré and some Portuguese classics (in English) ahead of Penguin launching a range in Brazil. He is also reading Lord Mandelson’s diary. It simply makes sense, he says, instead of carting an armful of books in your carry-on luggage.

Innovation

“It does redefine what we do as publishers and I feel, compared with most of my counterparts, more optimistic about what this means for us,” he says. “Of course there are issues around copyright protection and there are worries around pricing and around piracy, royalty rates and so on, but there is also this huge opportunity to do more as publishers.”
Publishing, he says, must embrace innovation: “I am keen on the idea that every book that we put on to an iPad has an author interview, a video interview, at the beginning. I have no idea whether this is a good idea or not. There has to be a culture of experimentation, which doesn’t come naturally to book publishers. We publish a lot of historians, for example. They love the idea of using documentary footage to illustrate whatever it is they’re writing about.”

The very definition of a book is up for grabs he says, although the company has just published a version of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth for the iPad in the US that might provide clues – and horrify traditionalists. It includes scenes from a TV adaptation embedded in the text, as well as extras including the show’s music soundtrack and Follett’s video diary during the making of the series.

For now, Makinson says, digital books are expanding the market; hardback sales in the US are up this year, despite the march of ebooks. Piracy is not yet a significant issue and lessons have been learned from the music business.

“You have to give the consumer what the consumer wants – you can’t tell the consumer to go away. So we didn’t participate in this experiment where a number of publishers deferred publication of the ebook until a certain number of months after the hardcover publication. I thought that was a very bad idea. If the consumer wants to buy a book in an electronic format now, you should let the consumer have it.”

He has added confidence, because with tablets such as the iPad, consumers are used to paying a subscription to the wireless operator and for “apps”, creating a more benign environment than the wild west of the PC, where users are used to getting everything for free.

Penguin’s profits more than doubled to £44m in the first half of the year. The company gained market share, but one reason for the dramatic improvement was the outsourcing of some design and production to India last year; the company now has around 100 designers in Delhi making books for Dorling Kindersley, belying the idea that Britain can at least live off its creative industries. Makinson defends the decision and says DK is now back in profit, which means it can reinvest in Britain: “We can’t pretend we can do everything here. In order to be internationally competitive, some work needs to be done in other places.”

About 8% of the publisher’s sales are from its classics, including Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and revenues are still growing, despite much of the copyright being in the public domain. It is launching the range in Mandarin, Korean and Portuguese. But it is not all highbrow. What would Penguin’s founder, Sir Allen Lane, whose aim was to publish quality paperbacks for the masses, have made of Penguin putting out books “by” Peter Andre or Ant & Dec?

“Allen Lane’s view was that we should publish good writing of all kinds for all audiences at affordable prices,” Makinson says. “I’m not saying he would necessarily have approved every single publishing decision we take, but would he have approved of Penguin being a very democratic publishing company, publishing for lots of different tastes? I think he would definitely have approved.”

Makinson has long been mentioned as a successor to Dame Marjorie Scardino, who runs Pearson, Penguin’s parent company. Her departure has been a perennial question, though she has defied the investment community’s chattering classes by staying in her post for well over a decade. She has also confounded expectations by keeping Penguin and the Financial Times in a group dominated by educational publishing. Makinson says it now makes more sense than ever for Penguin to remain part of the group, as the digital era draws each division closer.

He says there will still be the need for publishers in the digital world: “I used to have this discussion with [Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author] Douglas Adams. He created this thing called the digital village, an online publishing platform. Douglas’s argument was, ‘all of my friends will come along and publish on digital village and you the publishers will be disintermediated, you will be irrelevant’. Well, it hasn’t happened. I am not aware of any successful direct to consumer publishing model that exists.

“The reason it doesn’t work is that the publishers do actually perform quite a useful service: they edit the book, then they publicise it.” In the physical world, they make sure it is stocked in bookshops, he adds.

Clubbable

Makinson, 55, perhaps feels more adaptable than some of his counterparts because he arrived at Penguin as an outsider. A clubbable character, he has taken an unusual career path, from a journalist on the Financial Times, to working for the Saatchis, setting up his own investment consultancy, running the Financial Times and then becoming Pearson finance director, despite having no training as an accountant.
But his passion for books is evident. Five years ago, he and his brother bought a bookshop in the small Norfolk town of Holt. For an out-of-the-way independent, the Holt Bookshop attracts a starry line-up of authors for events, including Stephen Fry, due to talk about his new autobiography, which, perhaps not surprisingly, is published by Penguin.

“We are all terribly sentimental about books,” Makinson insists. “It is terribly important to me that we sell lots of wonderful books in my little independent in Norfolk, and when I talk about digital I do sometimes worry that it looks as though I am neglecting all this,” he points to the books on the shelves behind him, “which I am not.”

Guatemala elects a new president and his name is Charlie.

This disturbing article from the Washington Post, which consistently knocks British papers into a cocked hat for the quality of its reportage, shows that Mexican drug gangs have become a force powerful enough to subvert the progress of democracy in Central America.

SAN SALVADOR — Drug cartel violence in Mexico is quickly spilling south into Central America and is threatening to destabilize fragile countries already rife with crime and corruption, according to the United Nations, U.S. officials and regional law enforcement agents.

The Northern Triangle of Central America — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — has long been a major smuggling corridor for contraband heading to the United States. But as Mexican President Felipe Calderón fights a U.S.-backed war against his nation’s drug lords, trafficking networks are burrowing deeper into a region with the highest murder rates in the world.

The Mexican cartels “are spreading their horizons to states where they feel, quite frankly, more comfortable. These governments in Central America face a very real challenge in confronting these organizations,” said David Gaddis, chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

U.S. attention has mostly focused on Mexico. But the homicide rate there — 14 for every 100,000 residents — is dwarfed by the murder statistics in the Northern Triangle, where per-capita killings are four times higher and rising.

In El Salvador, the region’s most violent country, homicides jumped 37 percent last year, to 71 murders per 100,000 residents, as warring gangs vied for territory and trafficking routes. Police and military officials in El Salvador said cartels are increasingly paying local smugglers in product, rather than cash, driving up cocaine use and the drug dealing and turf battles that come with it.

“The more pressure there is in Mexico, the more the drug cartels will come to Central America looking for a safe haven,” Gen. David Munguía Payés, El Salvador’s defense minister, said in an interview here.

The amount of cocaine moving through the region has risen sharply, although the overall volume entering the United States is falling. Cocaine seizures in Central America nearly quadrupled between 2004 and 2007, according to the most recent U.N. data.

The United States has allocated $258 million in anti-narcotics assistance for Central America since 2007 as part of the three-year, $1.6 billion Merida Initiative. But a report this month by the Government Accountability Office found that only 9 percent of the money promised under the initiative has been spent and that U.S. officials had no reliable way to determine whether it was making a difference in the drug war.

‘A paradise for criminals’

In remote, lawless regions of Guatemala, the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Zetas is setting up training camps and recruiting elite ex-soldiers to serve as assassins, arming them with weapons diverted from the country’s military arsenals.

Last month, four human heads were left near the Guatemalan Congress and elsewhere in the capital. The national police spokesman, Donald González, said the grisly display was the work of the Zetas and other Mexican traffickers.

“Guatemala has become a paradise for criminals, who have little to fear from prosecutors owing to high levels of impunity,” the International Crisis Group, a conflict research organization, said in a June report. “High-profile assassinations and the government’s inability to reduce murders have produced paralyzing fear, a sense of helplessness and frustration.”

Over the past two years, Guatemala’s top anti-narcotics official, two national police chiefs and the former president have been arrested on charges related to drug trafficking or corruption. Two former interior ministers are fugitives. In May, the Guatemalan president appointed, then removed after international protests, an attorney general who U.N. prosecutors say has ties to mobsters.

In Honduras, where a military coup last year toppled the president, Mexican cartels have established command-and-control centers to orchestrate cocaine shipments by sea and air along the still-wild Caribbean coast, often with the help of local authorities, according to DEA and U.N. officials. Ten anti-narcotics officers were caught smuggling 142 kilos of cocaine last July. In December, Honduras’s drug czar, Gen. Julián Arístides González, was killed after trying to shut down clandestine landing strips Continue reading Guatemala elects a new president and his name is Charlie.

Psychic octopus threatened with a grilling

As everyone knows a psychic Octopus named Paul has correctly forecast all the world cup results so far. National feelings run deep however, and Paul has been threatened with death because of the accuracy of his predictions according to the Washington Post. William Hill admit to losing £100,000 as a result of his predictions. But remember folks, a closer look at Paul will tell you that betting is for suckers.

paul the psychic octopus
paul the psychic octopus

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) – Paul the oracle octopus was given a replica of the World Cup on Monday as a reward for his perfect eight-for-eight record in picking matches as bettors worldwide collected their winnings based on his selections.
The two-year-old octopus with possible psychic powers turned into a worldwide celebrity for accurately predicting the winner of Germany’s five World Cup wins as well as their two defeats. Paul also tipped Spain to beat Netherlands in Sunday’s final.
“We’ve had a lot of offers for Paul but he will definitely be staying with us and returning to his old job — making children smile,” Sea Life spokeswoman Tanja Munzig in Oberhausen told Reuters after presenting Paul with the World Cup replica.
“There’s no rational reason why he always got it right.”
Bettors around the world made small fortunes based on Paul’s uncanny picks, said Graham Sharpe, media relations director at William Hill in London, one of Britain’s largest bookmakers.
“I’ve seen a lot of things in my lifetime but this is the first time I’ve ever seen people making their picks based on what an octopus tells them,” Sharpe told Reuters.

“We had people coming in saying they didn’t know how to place a bet but heard about this German octopus and wanted to bet with him. It’s ludicrous. But he kept getting it right,” said Sharpe. “It’s one of the finest tipping feats ever.”
Sharpe said that anyone who had placed a 10-pound accumulator bet on Paul’s picks from the start of the World Cup would have won 3,000 pounds ($4,500) by the end of the tournament.
Paul’s home at Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen has been inundated with visitors and media from across Europe. Many networks broadcast his picks live. Hundreds were on hand to watch the World Cup replica lowered into his tank on Monday.
WINNING BETS
“Paul now wants to say good-bye to the whole world,” Daniel Fey, a supervisor at Sea Life, told Reuters. “He really enjoyed all the media attention but now he’s returning to his old job.”
Yet interest in the 50-cm long octopus remained intense, especially after his last two picks on Friday were once again accurate. Germany won Saturday’s match for third place and Spain won Sunday’s final — as Paul had called it on Friday.
Last week Germans were shocked and distraught when he picked Spain to beat Germany in the semi-final after tipping German wins over Argentina, England, Ghana and Australia.
And after Spain beat Germany, many wanted to publicly grill him. Sea Life installed extra security to protect their octopus.
“We have to remember he’s quite old now — 2-1/2 years is quite old for an octopus,” Fey said.
Probability experts were quoted in media reports saying the likelihood of getting eight consecutive picks right is 1/256. Sharpe said the odds of getting eight straight right was over 1/300. Humbled professors were quoted saying Paul got lucky.
The octopus, considered by some to be the most intelligent of all invertebrates, had a choice of picking food from two different transparent containers lowered into his tank — each with a national flag on it.
The container Paul opened first was regarded as his pick.
Sharpe at William Hill said he had at first been skeptical about the oracle octopus. But he became a believer.
“I suspect that Paul’s predictions could have made about a half a million pounds,” Sharpe said, adding he estimated William Hill paid out 100,000 pounds on his picks at its 2,300 outlets.
“We had people coming in asking who Paul had picked before they placed their bets,” Sharpe said. “I’m sure there were a lot more people too who were too embarrassed to tell you they made their bet based on what the octopus said.”
He said it was the first time in 30 years of work that he had seen “such widely orchestrated use of a non-human tipster.”
Sharpe said he, unfortunately, did not follow Paul’s advice. “It’d have been too embarrassing,” he said. But Sharpe said he was going on holiday soon. “I’m going to the seaside and intend to eat as much octopus as I can cram down as revenge,” he said.

Survivalists ready to hole up now for £32,00 per head.

I loved this story well put together by Tom Lamont in the Observer this weekend. My keep-fit-mad 17 year old son is a prime candidate for this US survivalist stuff. Hand him an AK47 and wait until you see the whites of their eyes.

Abandon any notion of surviving the apocalypse by doing anything as boringly obvious as running for the highest hill, or eating cockroaches. The American firm Vivos is now offering you the chance to meet global catastrophe (caused by terrorism, tsunami, earthquake, volcano, pole shift, Iran, “social anarchy”, solar flare – a staggering list of potential world-murderers are considered) in style.

Vivos is building 20 underground “assurance of life” resorts across the US, capable of sustaining up to 4,000 people for a year when the earth no longer can. The cost? A little over £32,000 a head, plus a demeaning-sounding screening test that determines whether you are able to offer meaningful contribution to the continuation of the human race. Company literature posits, gently, that “Vivos may prove to be the next Genesis”, and they are understandably reluctant to flub the responsibility.

Should you have the credentials and the cash, the rewards of a berth in a Vivos shelter seem high. Each staffed complex has a decontamination shower and a jogging machine; a refrigerated vault for human DNA and a conference room with wheely chairs. There are TVs and radios, flat-screen computers, a hospital ward, even a dentist’s surgery ready to serve those who forgot to pack a toothbrush in the hurry. “Virtually any meal” can be cooked from a stockpile of ingredients that includes “baked potato soup” but, strangely, no fish, tinned or otherwise. Framed pictures of mountain ranges should help ease the loss of a world left behind.

Vivos says it has already received 1,000 applications. Continue reading Survivalists ready to hole up now for £32,00 per head.

We are buying fake food at inflated prices.

This nicely written story by Lyndsey Layton appeared in the Washington Post this week. Americans have been disguising food as something more upmarket and selling it at vastly inflated prices. “Sturgeon caviar” was, in fact, Mississippi paddlefish. I bet it happens in the UK.

The expensive “sheep’s milk” cheese in a Manhattan market was really made from cow’s milk. And a jar of “Sturgeon caviar” was, in fact, Mississippi paddlefish.
Some honey makers dilute their honey with sugar beets or corn syrup, their competitors say, but still market it as 100 percent pure at a premium price.
And last year, a Fairfax man was convicted of selling 10 million pounds of cheap, frozen catfish fillets from Vietnam as much more expensive grouper, red snapper and flounder. The fish was bought by national chain retailers, wholesalers and food service companies, and ended up on dinner plates across the country.
“Food fraud” has been documented in fruit juice, olive oil, spices, vinegar, wine, spirits and maple syrup, and appears to pose a significant problem in the seafood industry. Victims range from the shopper at the local supermarket to multimillion companies, including E&J Gallo and Heinz USA.
Such deception has been happening since Roman times, but it is getting new attention as more products are imported and a tight economy heightens competition. And the U.S. food industry says federal regulators are not doing enough to combat it.
“It’s growing very rapidly, and there’s more of it than you might think,” said James Morehouse, a senior partner at A.T. Kearney Inc., which is studying the issue for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the food and beverage industry.
John Spink, an expert on food and packaging fraud at Michigan State University, estimates that 5 to 7 percent of the U.S. food supply is affected but acknowledges the number could be greater. “We know what we seized at the border, but we have no idea what we didn’t seize,” he said.
The job of ensuring that food is accurately labeled largely rests with the Food and Drug Administration. But it has been overwhelmed in trying to prevent food contamination, and fraud has remained on a back burner.
The recent development of high-tech tools — including DNA testing — has made it easier to detect fraud that might have gone unnoticed a decade ago. DNA can be extracted from cells of fish and meat and from other foods, such as rice and even coffee. Technicians then identify the species by comparing the DNA to a database of samples.
Another tool, isotope ratio analysis, can determine subtle differences between food — whether a fish was farmed or wild, for example, or whether caviar came from Finland or a U.S. stream.
The techniques have become so accessible that two New York City high school students, working with scientists at the Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History last year, discovered after analyzing DNA in 11 of 66 foods — including the sheep’s milk cheese and caviar — bought randomly at markets in Manhattan were mislabeled.
“We put so much emphasis on food and purity of ingredients and where they come from,” said Mark Stoeckle, a physician and DNA expert at Rockefeller University who advised the students. “But then there are things selling that are not what they say on the label. There’s an important issue here in terms of economics and consumer safety.”
It is not clear how many food manufacturers, importers and retailers are testing products, but large companies with valuable brands to protect have been increasingly using the new technology, said Vincent Paez, director of food safety business development at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Continue reading We are buying fake food at inflated prices.

While the West idles, China has trouble filling its factories with labourers.

This article is from the New York Times – for the first time in many years workers have failed to return from the (Chinese) New Year break – no longer drawn from the agricultural fields by the lure of industrial readies, instead the signing bonus is being introduced for factory workers…whatever next for the Chinese economy – now virtually the only source for cheap Western consumer goods…

GUANGZHOU, China — Just a year after laying off millions of factory workers, China is facing an increasingly acute labor shortage.

As American workers struggle with near double-digit unemployment, unskilled factory workers here in China’s industrial heartland are being offered signing bonuses.

Factory wages have risen as much as 20 percent in recent months.

Telemarketers are turning away potential customers because recruiters have fully booked them to cold-call people and offer them jobs.

Some manufacturers, already weeks behind schedule because they can’t find enough workers, are closing down production lines and considering raising prices. Such increases would most likely drive up the prices American consumers pay for all sorts of Chinese-made goods.

Rising wages could also lead to greater inflation in China. In the past, inflation has sown social unrest.

The immediate cause of the shortage is that millions of migrant workers who traveled home for the long lunar New Year earlier this month are not returning to the coast. Thanks to a half-trillion-dollar government stimulus program, jobs are being created in the interior.

But many economists say the recent global downturn also obscured a longer-term trend: China has drained its once vast reserves of unemployed workers in rural areas and is running out of fresh laborers for its factories.

Since China does not release reliable, timely statistics on employment, wages are considered the best barometer of labor shortages. And temp agencies here in Guangzhou raised their rate for factory workers this week to $1.17 an hour, from 95 cents an hour before the new year holiday.

The rate was 80 cents an hour two years ago, before the global financial crisis Continue reading While the West idles, China has trouble filling its factories with labourers.

The Real Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow has always been one of my favourite film makers ever since Strange Days – a film I would most highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t yet seen it. I was delighted to hear she won an Oscar today, the first woman to win Best Director. My son has just got The Hurt Locker for us to watch – which is why this piece from the New York Times particularly caught my eye today. It kind of speaks for itself– written by Michael Jernigan, a man who knows.

I was eager to see “The Hurt Locker” since it is one of the first movies about my war.
I found it very interesting. I saw a lot of reality there. I have seen and dealt with, to a limited extent, the addiction to adrenaline. I do not know of anyone who loved it more than their wife and child, but I do know that it can be extremely addictive. Jumping out of an airplane affords great odds of survival. Combat or disarming a bomb does not afford such great odds. Your body will react similarly but with more intensity. When this occurs daily or more than once daily your body craves it like a drug addict craves a drug. I found the movie entertaining, but given my experience, I imagine it was scary to me on a different level than most.

War movies in general are great for what they are: entertainment. I grew up in the 1980s and saw almost all of the good war movies of that time. I was in the theater for “Full Metal Jacket” and have a copy of “Platoon” at home. I own “The Boys in Company C,” “Kelly’s Heroes,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” and a few others. Like I said, they are good entertainment. But of course there is a darker side.
These movies glorify a situation that has no real glory in it. Turn to one of your relatives or friends who has been in combat and ask them what they think of war. I am sure that they will tell you that it is scary, gruesome and requires extreme intestinal fortitude. There are no Sgt. Strykers or Gunny Highways in the real Corps. We don’t have a director who can step in when all hell is breaking loose and yell, “Cut!”
I joined the Marine Corps because I was looking for a way to get my life on track. My grandfather did 28 years in the Corps (Korea and Vietnam) and my father did eight years in the Corps (Vietnam), then 13 in the Army. When I was given the opportunity to go to war in Iraq I was as happy as you can imagine. That was what I grew up watching in the movies. I wanted to be my own “Animal Mother” (see: “Full Metal Jacket”).
When I got to Iraq I soon learned that it was not the movies. In my first few weeks we drove over an I.E.D. We caught the guys as they were driving away by riddling their car with bullets from machine guns and few M-16’s. The driver was struck twice and the passenger was not shot but I think he was having a heart attack when we got over to them.

A few days later while on a foot patrol I spotted a blue blinking light in the road and walked up to it. It was a phone taped to a canister. While running for my life the thing exploded. I was not injured but was very shaken up.
We went to Falluja in April of 2004. Our company saw two to three firefights a day. It was the first time I saw one of my friends get shot. In one month we took light casualties (thankfully, no dead Marines). We then went to Zaidon and a handful of Marines received serious wounds. Our radio man lost his foot; one of our rifleman lost his arm. A friend of mine took shrapnel to the throat and there were other serious wounds. Thankfully, no dead Marines. After that it was back to Mahmudiya: on the second day there we drove over an I.E.D. The only casualty was our Marine “Big Country” getting a concussion from the overpressure.
Later in the deployment my Humvee was hit by a large I.E.D. I had my forehead crushed in, lost both eyes, had to have my right hand fully reconstructed and took severe damage to my left knee. One buddy lost a foot; one of the others took shrapnel to the forehead but lived; one took superficial shrapnel wounds to the arm and one of my best friends died.
Would you bring your children out to the battlefield to witness it live and in person?
On a later deployment to Iraq that I did not go on, I lost three more friends to I.E.D.’s. One of them was the Navy Corpsman (Marine medic) who saved my life on the battlefield back in Mahmudiya. I have a tattoo over my left breast (where my heart is) that says “Semper Fidelis,” the Marine Corps motto. It is Latin for “Always Faithful” and refers to always accomplishing the mission. Around the “Semper Fidelis” are four names. “Thompson,” “Belchik,” Cockerham” and “Hodshire.” All great guys that I would let date my sister.
“The Hurt Locker” and all the other movies I mentioned, whether they are good or bad as entertainment, Continue reading The Real Hurt Locker

Voyeur sex games spread on chat site.

I heard on Steve Hewlett’s Radio 4 media show that the Observer has declined in circulation again – this story is from there – and for once I have kept the original headline because it is great, real “surgeon priest in palace sex probe” material. I wonder how many people will read this without thinking about trying some of this strange…new….chatroulette….

An addictive new website that links strangers’ webcams is gaining popularity – and notoriety

A new website that has been described as “surreal”, “addictive” and “frightening” is proving a sensation around the world – and attracting a reputation as a haven for no-holds-barred, explicit material.

Chatroulette, which was launched in November, has rocketed in popularity thanks to its simple premise: internet video chats with ­random strangers.

When users visit the site and switch on their webcams, they are suddenly connected to another, randomly chosen person who is doing precisely the same thing somewhere else in the world.

Once they are logged in together, chatters can do anything they like: talk to each other, type messages, entertain each other – or just say goodbye, hit the “next” button and move on in an attempt to find somebody more interesting.

Chatroulette describes itself as a “brand new service for one-on-one text, webcam and microphone-based chat with people around the world”, but no one is sure who started the site. The owners did not respond to an attempt to contact them by email, and they have gone to great pains to protect their identities. This may be because ­Chatroulette appears to operate largely as an ­unregulated service and, as a result, has rapidly become a haven for exhibitionists and voyeurs.

A large contingent of people seem intent on using the service’s string of random connections as the basis for some sort of sex game.

Users regularly describe unwanted encounters with all sorts of unsavoury characters, and it has become the defining aspect of the site for some. Veteran blogger Jason Kottke, who has spent years documenting some of the web’s most weird and wonderful corners, tried the site and then wrote about witnessing nudity, sexual activity and strange behaviour.

“I observed several people drinking malt liquor, two girls making out, many, many guys who disconnected as soon as they saw I wasn’t female, [and] several girls who disconnected after seeing my face,” he said, adding that he also witnessed “three couples having sex and 11 erect p******s”.

Yet despite the highly offensive nature of much of the site’s content, Kottke – like thousands of others – has been hypnotised by the glimpses the site offers into other people’s lives. “Chatroulette is pretty much the best site going on the internet right now,” he wrote.

Although the site says that it “does not tolerate broadcasting obscene, offending, pornographic material” and offers users the option to report unsuitable content, the restrictions do not seem to prevent users from broadcasting explicit videos of themselves online.

However, like the chatroom explosion in the late 1990s or the early days of YouTube, spending time inside Chatroulette is becoming a peculiarly modern form of entertainment, particularly popular with students in campuses around the world. In just a couple of months the site has expanded significantly as it tears through universities by word of mouth, spreading virally in a similar manner to sites Continue reading Voyeur sex games spread on chat site.

Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

This story just had everything: social networking, police, anti-banks, riots, drink, drugs, parties you name it it’s all there. Quite a few papers ran it at the end of the week — — the version I’ve chosen is from the Telegraph

A Facebook-organised party at a squat in a Park Lane town house was broken up by police after hundreds of youths caused havoc in the streets around the £10 million property.
Riot police dispersed crowds in the streets and cleared the building after partygoers pelted them with bottles and bricks from the roof and balcony.

Officers had been summoned to the party, allegedly organised by two teenagers from London, at 11pm after a wave of complaints from terrified neighbours.

Two members of the public were thought to have been injured as the partygoers jumped on cars, threw fire extinguishers and plant pots from windows and drew graffiti before the chaos subsided in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The property was bought for £10m in 2007 by Continue reading Facebook flash mob goes AWOL

Google to become broadband provider. And that means broad.

Saw this in today’s Washington Post. Sign me up.

Google, the world’s biggest online search engine, wants to turbocharge your Internet connection.

The company said Wednesday it is getting into the broadband service business with trials for fiber networks that will deliver Internet access speeds that are 100 times faster than what most Americans are getting today.

The company said in a blog that it will build fiber-to-the-home connections to a small number of locations across the country that will deliver Internet access speeds of 1 gigabit per second. The company didn’t say what areas would be part of its experiment, but said prices would be competitive and that its network would reach at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people. A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the company doesn’t currently have plans to expand beyond the initial tests but will evaluate as the tests progress.

“Our goal is to experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone,” wrote product managers Minni Ingersoll and James Kelly in the blog titled, “Think big with a gig: our experimental fiber network.”

Some of the fastest connections through cable, DSL and fiber access cap off around 20 to 50 megabits a second. Google chief executive Eric Schmidt told The Washington Post during a visit late last year that ultra-high-speed Internet connections were imperative for a next generation of applications to take off for the Web. Currently, he said, most network services fall short.

At such speeds, a rural health center could receive streaming three-dimensional medial imaging over the Web and discuss health issues with a physician in a Los Angeles, for example. Downloading high-definition, full-length feature films would take about five minutes, Google said.

Talking to people in a coma. I do it all the time.

We have all seen and heard this story about successful attempts at communicating with people in a Vegetative State – this is a very well informed article about the topic from the New Scientist this week written by Celeste Biever.

THE inner voice of people who appear unconscious can now be heard. For the first time, researchers have struck up a conversation with a man diagnosed as being in a vegetative state. All they had to do was monitor how his brain responded to specific questions. This means that it may now be possible to give some individuals in the same state a degree of autonomy.

“They can now have some involvement in their destiny,” says Adrian Owen of the University of Cambridge, who led the team doing the work.

In an earlier experiment, published in 2006, Owen’s team asked a woman previously diagnosed as being in a vegetative state (VS) to picture herself carrying out one of two different activities. The resulting brain activity suggested she understood the commands and was therefore conscious.

Now Owen’s team has taken the idea a step further. A man also diagnosed with VS was able to answer yes and no to specific questions by imagining himself engaging in the same activities.

The results suggest that it is possible to give a degree of choice to some people who have no other way of communicating with the outside world. “We are not just showing they are conscious, we are giving them a voice and a way to communicate,” says neurologist Steven Laureys of the University of Liège in Belgium, Owen’s collaborator.

When someone is in a VS, they can breathe unaided, have intact reflexes but seem completely unaware. But it is becoming clear that some people who appear to be vegetative are in fact minimally conscious. They are in a kind of twilight state in which they may feel some pain, experience emotion and communicate to a limited extent. These two states can be distinguished from each other via bedside behavioural tests – but these tests are not perfect and can miss patients who are aware but unable to move. So researchers Continue reading Talking to people in a coma. I do it all the time.

Veil blocked.

Hmmm. The French resolves weakens on the burkah issue according to the Guardian. Instead of forcing other people to wear French couture in public the French have relented a little….

France will today take the first step towards barring Muslim women from wearing the full veil when using public services, but will stop short of calling for an outright ban after critics argued that such a move would be socially divisive and hard to enforce.

A cross-party committee of MPs was set up last year to explore the controversial issue in France of burkas and niqabs. The committee will recommend to ­parliament that Muslim women should be allowed to continue covering their faces in the street.

Its final report will, however, recommend that anyone covering their face be barred from entering public sector property, including hospitals and schools, or using public transport.

“The full veil is the visible part of this black tide of fundamentalism,” said Communist MP André Gerin, the committee’s president, in an interview last week. Eric Raoult, a rightwing MP heavily involved in the report, said yesterday that the imposition of a full ban – if it were to occur – would have to wait. “We have tried to do something that is coherent and enforceable,” he said, adding that a ban that was unenforceable would “make everyone look ridiculous”.

Under the proposals, a woman who fails to remove her veil inside when using any realm of the statethose public servicin such cases would not face a fine for breaking the law, but would be refused access to the service. She would not, for instance, be allowed to collect her child benefit payments or take the bus.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has repeatedly said that the full veil “is not welcome” on French soil, is believed to favour this partial legislation, rather than more radical suggestions from recalcitrant members of his rightwing UMP party.

The president has been warned that an outright ban on the full veil could be found to be unconstitutional and almost impossible to put into practice. Sarkozy, who has stressed the need to find a solution in which “no one feels stigmatised”, is also keen to play down speculation that his policies are doing more to aggravate social divisions than to bridge them.

Steps to ban the burka, which have been opposed by the Muslim Council of France and other religious groups, have coincided with the French government’s “big debate” on national identity. Critics of the government, from the left and right, have accused Sarkozy of encouraging dangerous rhetoric which has seen the country’s 5 million Muslims become the object of increasing critiques.

Tomorrow’s cross-party report – whose contents were leaked to the French press last week – looks likely to recommend the ­passing of a non-binding parliamentary resolution setting out the country’s “symbolic” opposition to the full veil.

After that, steps should be taken to vote into law a series of “separate, but multiple bans” which would make clear the garment’s practical incompatibility with French values of sexual equality and freedom, the report will say.

“We have to make life impossible for them in order to curb the phenomenon,” one MP told the French daily Le Figaro. However, opponents have said that banning the full veil either outright or partially would serve merely to reinforce the isolation of women already partially alienated from mainstream society.

The 32-member panel, which has been meeting and questioning experts on the issue for the past six months, was set up by Sarkozy last summer after he declared that the full veil was “a sign of subservience [and] debasement”.

Gerin has not made any secret of his desire to see a ban on what he has denounced as a “walking prison”. His feelings have tapped into growing concern in France over an item of clothing worn by a small minority of Muslim women.

According to police figures, no more than 2,000 women – most of them young and a quarter of them converts – wear a face-covering veil. But in a country which places a high value on laïcité – secularism – and which in 2004 banned headscarves in schools, it is unsurprising that such an overt display of religion has raised eyebrows. The major political parties, leading feminists and even one prominent imam have made clear their dislike for the full veil, which they view as an affront to women’s rights and a sign of an emerging strand of fundamentalist Islam.

Despite wide-ranging opposition to the garment and polls showing that most French citizens favour a ban, opinions have differed on how to go about discouraging women from covering their faces.

The Socialist party, while condemning the full veil, refused to support a ban.

The UMP’s Jean-François Copé, a politician with half an eye on the 2012 presidential elections, grabbed the headlines with a proposal to outlaw the full veil anywhere on French streets and to fine wearers €750 each – a suggestion rejected by the committee.

Britain deals superbly with a couple of centimetres of snow.

I was drinking with two neighbours last night who were off to Germany today using …yes…Eurostar. Why do I mention it? Germany commonly copes with six foot of snow, let alone a couple of inches. Yet here we are massively disrupted by a not unexpected outbreak of fairly mild wintry weather as seen in today’s Telegraph, Ho hum.

All Eurostar services remained suspended for a third consecutive day, while airports and domestic rail networks across the country suffered delays.
As bus replacement services were put into action, the AA warned that some minor roads had effectively turned into “ice-rinks”.
At least four people died in car crashes related to the bad weather over the weekend, while extra breakdown patrols were out in force in more remote areas.
With temperatures forecast to remain below freezing until Christmas Eve, there seems little respite from the chaos.
The three days of cancellation by Eurostar has left 55,000 people with travel plans in tatters as they try and find alternative transport at one of the busiest times of the year.
The company is encouraging those who don’t have to travel in the next few days to Those whose trains were cancelled have been offered refunds, aas well as the costs of any hotel accommodation – up to three star – transport and meals.
But that provides little comfort for those Britons stranded in France, and those trying to get home to France and Belgium for the holiday.
Several flights arriving from the US – where there is also considerable snow – were delayed arriving into London Heathrow and Gatwick.
Some passengers at Manchester Airport were still waiting to take off on flights which were due to have taken off on Sunday, while cancellations and delays continued at Bristol, Luton, Southampton, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Inverness airports.
A Manchester airport spokeswoman said: “We are trying our best to get the backlog cleared up. It has been a constant battle with snow and freezing temperatures.
“The snow has stopped falling now and the forecast looks clear but the problem now is clearing the runway of ice. The current temperature out there is minus 4 degrees. We have ordered in 50,000 litres of de-icer today to help with that.”
To try and ease the congestion between London and France, British Airways said it was operating larger aircraft on many flights both ways between Heathrow and Paris, including a 340-seater Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
BA was operating an additional flight from Heathrow to New York this evening.
UK carrier Flybe said it was increasing capacity to help stranded Eurostar passengers – laying on larger aircraft from both Birmingham and Southampton to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for the next four days.
However, budget airline easyJet, which had to cancel a number of flights today, reported that French aviation authorities had imposed flight restrictions on easyJet at Charles de Gaulle Airport and that the airline was experiencing delays and cancellations to Paris.
Ferry operator P&O said it had laid on a fleet of coaches to get the passengers across the Channel and on to Paris or Brussels.
Spokesman Chris Laming said: “At one point we had 500 Eurostar passengers at Dover and at Calais.
“We’ve spoken to Eurostar about this arrangement and they’ve agreed to pick up the tab, and we’ll certainly send them the bill.”
Rail services were delayed in Surrey and Buckinghamshire, while London Midland services between London and Tring in Hertfordshire were cancelled and there were delays to Virgin West Coast trains.
Bus replacement services were put in place by Southern railways and Kent and Sussex suffered from the continuing poor weather.
On the roads, a jack-knifed lorry led to a lane closure on the M6 in Lancashire and another accident resulted in two lanes of the M6 in Cumbria being closed.
The AA said it had extra patrols out on duty and was putting extra snow-busting Land Rovers in place to rescue people in inaccessible areas.
AA president Edmund King said: “Many minor roads are treacherous – they’re like ice rinks – with numerous shunts and cars stuck in ditches.”

The wounded surgeon plies the steel. Kills 12. Wounds 31.

Fort Hood, 60 miles north of Austin, is the largest Army base in the United States. More than 53,000 troops are stationed there, and more than 17,000 family members live on the base. An army psychiatrist went on a shooting spree there yesterday. His aunt talks about him and his life below, from the Washington Post, home of proper and good reporting since forever.

He prayed every day at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, a devout Muslim who, despite asking to be discharged from the U.S. Army, was on the eve of his first deployment to war. Yesterday, authorities said Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, a 39-year-old Arlington-born psychiatrist, shot and killed at least 12 people at Fort Hood, Tex.
In an interview, his aunt, Noel Hasan of Falls Church, said he had endured name-calling and harassment about his Muslim faith for years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and had sought for several years to be discharged from the military.
“I know what that is like,” she said. “Some people can take it, and some cannot. He had listened to all of that, and he wanted out of the military, and they would not let him leave even after he offered to repay” for his medical training.
An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. George Wright, said he could not confirm that Hasan requested a discharge.
As authorities scrambled to figure out what happened at Fort Hood, a hazy and contradictory picture emerged of a man who received his medical training from the military and spent his career in the Army, yet allegedly turned so violently against his own. Hasan spent nearly all of his professional life at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District, caring for the victims of trauma, yet he spoke openly of his deep opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hasan, who was shot while being taken into custody, was reported in stable condition at a hospital Thursday night, authorities said.
The Associated Press reported that Hasan attracted the attention of law enforcement authorities in recent months after an Internet posting under the screen name “NidalHasan” compared Islamic suicide bombers to Japanese kamikaze pilots. “To say that this soldier committed suicide is inappropriate,” the posting read. “It’s more appropriate to say he is a brave hero that sacrificed his life for a more noble cause.”
He steered clear of female colleagues, co-workers said, and despite devout religious practices, listed himself in Army records as having no religious preference.
A longtime Walter Reed colleague who referred patients to psychiatrists said co-workers avoided sending service members to Hasan because of his unusual manner and solitary work habits.
Hasan is a 1997 graduate of Virginia Tech who went on to get a doctorate in psychiatry from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda. From 2003 through last summer, he was an intern, resident and then fellow at Walter Reed, where he worked as a liaison between wounded soldiers and the hospital’s psychiatry staff. He was also a fellow at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Bethesda military medical school.
He had been affected by the physical and mental injuries he saw while working as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed for nearly eight years, according to his aunt. “He must have snapped,” Noel Hasan said. “They ignored him. It was not hard to know when he was upset. He was not a fighter, even as a child and young man. But when he became upset, his face turns red.” She said Hasan had consulted with an attorney about getting out of the service.
On the rare occasions when he spoke of his work in any detail, the aunt said, Hasan told her of soldiers wracked by what they had seen. One patient had suffered burns to his face so intense “that his face had nearly melted,” she said. “He told us how upsetting that was to him.”Hasan “did not make many friends” and “did not make friends fast,” his aunt said. He had no girlfriend and was not married. “He would tell us the military was his life,” she said.
The psychiatrist once said that “Muslims should stand up and fight against the aggressor” and that the United States shouldn’t be fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place, according to an interview with Col. Terry Lee, a co-worker, on Fox News.
At the Muslim Community Center, Hasan stood out because he would sometimes show up in Army fatigues, said Faizul Khan, the former imam there.
“He came to mosque one or two times to see if there were any suitable girls to marry,” Khan said. “I don’t think he ever had a match, because he had too many conditions. He wanted a girl who was very religious, prays five times a day.”
In search of a partner in marriage, Hasan wrote in an application filed with a local Muslim matching service that “I am quiet and reserved until more familiar with person. Funny, caring and personable.”
“He was a very quiet and private person. I can’t say that people knew him very well other than attending prayers,” said Arshad Qureshi, chairman of the board of trustees at the Muslim Community Center of Silver Spring. “You didn’t see him attend anything — school for children or celebrations. He did not go out of the way to engage people. We have thousands of people who come through to pray; he was just one of them.”
A co-worker at Walter Reed said Hasan would not allow his photo to be taken with female co-workers, which became an issue during Christmas season when employees often took group photos. Co-workers would find a solo photo of Hasan and post it on the bulletin board without his permission.
Lee told Fox News that Hasan “was hoping that President Obama would pull troops out. . . . When things weren’t going that way, he became more agitated, more frustrated with the conflicts over there. . . . He made his views well known about how he felt about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
And when he talked about fighting “the aggressor,” he said that his fellow soldiers “should stand up and help the armed forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan,” Lee said.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told reporters after a briefing on the shootings that Hasan was born in Virginia to parents who emigrated from Jordan. The congressman said that Hasan “took a lot of advanced training in shooting.”
Hasan was polite and respectful, according to 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, who was treated by the psychiatrist at Walter Reed while recovering from a gunshot wound suffered in Iraq.
Whiteside remembers Hasan as serious. During his initial evaluation of her, she tried to make light when he coughed by saying, “Bless you.” Hasan replied that he had coughed and not sneezed.Hasan was “like my sons,” his aunt said, spending holidays and free time at her house. Born at Arlington Hospital, Nidal Hasan graduated from high school in Roanoke, where his parents had moved. He enlisted in the Army after high school and attended Virginia Tech, majoring in biochemistry.
Hasan’s parents died about 10 years ago. He had joined the military over their objections, Noel Hasan said. She said he has two brothers, Eyad, a businessman in Sterling, and Anas, a lawyer in Jerusalem.
When Army officials called Eyad Hasan to relay the news from Fort Hood on Thursday, Noel Hasan said, the brother “fainted when he heard it.” Initially, she said, Eyad was told his brother was injured and in surgery and later was erroneously told he had died.
Hasan was an avid Redskins fan. “That was his main entertainment,” his aunt said. “He was not a movie watcher. He worked hard and had been studying for years. He buried himself in his work.”
Noel Hasan was unaware of her nephew’s pending deployment. “He didn’t call or send an e-mail saying anything like that,” she said.
His last e-mail to her, she said, was a little more than a week ago “and it was just, “Hi, Aunt Noel. How are you doing?’ “

The dead walk in Brazil.

Thanks once again to Richard Dean for this story, It appeared in today’s Guardian – and gives a lovely account of a Brazilian chap turning up alive at his own funeral. Who was the other guy? That’s what I want to know.

A Brazilian bricklayer reportedly killed in a car crash shocked his mourning family by showing up alive at his funeral.
Relatives of Ademir Jorge Goncalves, 59, had identified him as the victim of a car crash on Sunday night in Parana state in southern Brazil, police said.
As is customary in Brazil, the funeral was held the following day, which happened to be the holiday of Finados, when Brazilians visit cemeteries to honour the dead.
What family members didn’t know was that Goncalves had spent the night at a truck stop talking with friends and drinking a sugarcane liquor known as cachaca, his niece Rosa Sampaio told the O Globo newspaper. He did not hear about his own funeral until it was already happening on Monday morning.
A police spokesman in the town of Santo Antonio da Platina said Goncalves rushed to the funeral to let family members know he was not dead.
“The corpse was badly disfigured, but dressed in similar clothing,” said the police spokesman, who talked on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorised to discuss the case. “People are afraid to look for very long when they identify bodies, and I think that is what happened in this case.”
Sampaio told O Globo that some family members were not sure the body was Goncalves.
“My two uncles and I had doubts about the identification,” she told O Globo. “But an aunt and four of his friends identified the body, so what were we to do? We went ahead with the funeral.”
The police spokesman confirmed there were doubts: “His mum looked at the body in the casket and thought something was strange. She looked and looked and couldn’t believe it was her son,” Sampaio said. “Before long, the walking dead appeared at the funeral. It was a relief.”
The body was correctly identified later on Monday, the police spokesman said, and had been buried in another state. He declined to release the actual victim’s name.

Dixon of Dock Green picks up a shooter.

One of the good things about British society has been our unarmed police policy. However, by some strange back door manouevre, it’s suddenly vanished and armed police are here on the streets of London in Brixton and Haringey. Right here, right now. Maybe some part of us doesn’t want to admit what the nice Rasta in Brockwell Park said to me the other morning about where my wife and I used to live in Brixton: “It’s like a war zone, so it is man.”  What bothers me, is that like the villains, the police are toting automatic weapons. Machine guns in streets of crowded people. Has it really come to this? This coverage is from the Independent.

Armed police officers are to patrol the streets of London for the first time in an attempt to tackle a rise in gang-related gun crime.

Traditionally officers from the Metropolitan Police’s specialist firearms unit – codenamed CO19 – have been deployed on the streets only when a response to incidents of gun crime is necessary or to protect VIPs.

The new initiative, announced yesterday, will see CO19 officers patrolling the capital’s most dangerous streets and housing estates alongside neighbourhood officers. It has been described as a “proactive” response to the 17 per cent increase in gun crime over the past six months.

But it was immediately denounced by members of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), the body which governs the actions of Scotland Yard, which was apparently not consulted on the controversial decision. One MPA member described the move as “totally unacceptable” while another called for an emergency meeting.

Joanne McCartney said: “We want fewer guns on the streets not more, and people to feel safe in their community – not scared of those who are supposed to protect them.

“There has been no debate, no consultation and apparently no consideration to the strong opposition that exists to arming the police. This is more than just an operational decision and should be brought before the police authority as a matter of urgency.”

Jenny Jones, another MPA member, added: “This is a totally unacceptable departure from normal policing tactics. I can’t believe that the sight of a policeman with a machine gun will make people feel safer.

“Are we heading down a slippery slope towards armed rather than community policing? I hope the Met will rethink this terrible decision immediately and think of a genuinely proactive way to prevent gun crime.”

Pilot patrols have already begun in Brixton as well as Haringey and Tottenham, where three Turkish men were shot dead earlier this month in an apparent war between rival heroin gangs.

It is the first time the Metropolitan Police has deployed armed officers for routine patrols outside of protected sites such as Parliament and Royal homes. However a similar project did run in Nottinghamshire in 2000 in an attempt to address the issue of drive-by shootings that afflicted the city.

Yet the fact that Britain’s police officers, unlike their American counterparts, remain predominately unarmed is a source of continuing pride to traditionalists who believe that officers should police through consent rather than force.

But Inspector Derek Carroll, who leads the armed unit, said officers have received positive feedback from residents.

He said: “Historically, CO19 was only called out when someone rang up to report a gun crime. But a lot of streets in London have young people in postcode gangs, aged 14 and upwards, and a lot of communities feel that they are controlling areas of estates. We are looking at gangs that have access to firearms and will be robust in dealing with them.”

4,000,000 to 1 coincidence in the Bulgarian lottery

The Bulgarian lottery has been going for fifty odd years. This week the same numbers came up twice in a row. What are the odds? Over four million to one. The Bulgarians say it’s coincidence.. ..this story is from Reuters.


SOFIA (Reuters) – The draw of the same six winning numbers twice in a row in Bulgaria’s national lottery was a freak coincidence, officials said Thursday.

Sports Minister Svilen Neikov ordered an investigation after the numbers 4, 15, 23, 24, 35 and 42 were selected, in a different order, by a machine live on television on September 6 and 10. The results caused suspicions of manipulation.

An investigation found no wrongdoing in the draw or determining the winners, its chairman Konstantin Simeonov said.

“We cannot talk about any manipulation,” he said.

The chance of the same six numbers coming up twice in two consecutive rounds was one in more than 4 million but was not impossible, respected mathematician Michail Konstantinov has said.

An unprecedented 18 people guessed all six numbers when they were drawn the second time and each got 10,164 levs ($7,700). Nobody won the top prize the first time.

The lottery organizers say it is impossible to tamper with the lottery machine. The draws take place in the presence of a special committee and is broadcast live on national television which guarantee no cheating, they say.

“This is happening for the first time in the 52-year history of the lottery. We are absolutely stunned to see such a freak coincidence but it did happen,” a spokeswoman said.

(Reporting by Anna Mudeva)

You haven’t got cancer, don’t worry. Oh, hang on a minute….

I found this appalling story in The Independent this week. Fancy being told you were all clear then – oh surely some mistake, you have got cancer after all….

Fourteen women in Britain have been told they have breast cancer after a hospital radiologist wrongly gave them the all-clear.

The unnamed member of staff at Accrington Victoria Hospital, Lancashire, was responsible for 355 screenings that later came under scrutiny.

A total of 85 women were asked to have a second breast examination and of these the 14 were found to have cancer.

They have yet to learn whether the late diagnosis will affect their chances of survival.

A further four patients were found to have abnormal cells. However, health officials said the prognosis in each of these cases was unaffected by the radiologist’s errors.

Senior officials at East Lancashire NHS Trust have confirmed that the radiologist has since left the hospital.

Accrington Victoria carries out breast cancer screenings for the whole of East Lancashire.

The women affected by the error are understood to live in and around Burnley, Blackburn, Darwen, Accrington, Rossendale and the Ribble Valley.

Rineke Schram, the trust’s medical director, issued an apology “for any distress and anxiety caused.”

She went on: “The delay in identifying the women with breast cancer does mean there has been a delay in these cancers being treated.

“It is unfortunately not possible to state with certainty whether this delay in treatment has affected the prognosis, other than to state that early-stage breast cancers have a good prognosis.

“The cancers have been picked up through screening, albeit with a delay.”

Regional breast cancer experts were drafted in to Accrington after the initial concerns were raised last year.

An independent review concentrated its attention on the work carried out by a single radiologist over a period of three years.

Officials have refused to reveal the extent of the delay between the original scans and the eventual diagnosis in each case.

It is known that the radiologist involved in the alert carried out his last screenings in December. He left the trust in April.

Mrs Schram said: “The work of the trust’s other breast screening radiologists has been independently assessed and found to be of a high standard.

“The trust will be commissioning a further independent review to provide further assurance and ensure lessons are learned.”

Dr Ellis Friedman, director of public health for NHS East Lancashire, said: “The incident team, which I chaired, has thoroughly reviewed the incident and will ensure that lessons will be learned.”

Man survives driving over 200ft cliff.

I heard this story on BBC radio this morning and here it is from the Daily Telegraph. I have more details to add: the man’s dog was in the car and survived and walked home. The driver apparently has two broken legs. I love this North Devon spot at Hartland Point and have walked there often with my family.

 

Police called the coastguard just before 5am this morning after the car was seen to drive over the precipice.

Hartland and Westward Ho! Coastguard Rescue Teams began searching for the car and any occupants. At 5.24am the car was found on the beach below.

Lights and equipment were set up on scene and the fire service was called to help. A rescue helicopter was also scrambled along with an ambulance.

Two coastguard cliffmen were placed on a line and lowered to the site of the silver car, where they found one man inside alive.

A winchman was lowered onto the beach from the helicopter. The man was freed from the car and flown to North Devon District Hospital.

The extent of his injuries are not yet known, although he was able to communicate with his rescuers.

Steve Jones, the watch manager, said: ”We are still uncertain as to the circumstances of why the car was driven over the cliff. However the single occupant was alive when extracted from the car and able to communicate with our rescue team.

”Fortunately the weather was benign this morning which helped the extraction. The car is in no danger of being overtaken by the tide and a plan will be drawn up on how to remove the vehicle from its present position.”

Get rid of that tiresome nuclear contamination with Cillit Bang.

Thanks once again to the heroic Richard Dean for this story – which ran in the Daily Telegraph originally. Apparently a huge nuclear plant in Scotland is being effectively cleansed of plutonium deposits using Cillit Bang – which also did a very good job on the greasy deposits in my cooker extraction hood last weekend incidentally. Hmm I wonder whether Cillit Bang do affiliate links……


Decontamination experts at the former nuclear site at Dounreay, northern Scotland, are using the Cillit Bang household cleaner to remove radioactive plutonium stains.The huge site in Caithness is in the process of being decommissioned but workers found their normal cleaning fluid was slowing down the job of dismantling an experimental chemical plant used in the 1980s to recycle plutonium liquor.

One of the team suggested £1.99 Cillit Bang after watching a television advertisement that shows dirt being stripped from a 10p coin.

The four-storey chemical plant consists of a series of vessels, pipes and boxes made from steel and toughened glass. The solutions which ran through it left the steel stained with plutonium, creating a hazard for the team taking it apart.

David Hanson, project manager with Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, said the efficacy of Cillit Bang was helping drive down the £2.6 billion cost of demolishing the site.

He said: “We need to decontaminate as much of the surfaces as possible before we can cut them up. The normal agents we’d use on steel and glass need time to dry and this slowed us down.

“The acids that had been used years ago also created problems. It meant we had to think carefully about the most effective way to wipe the plutonium from the steelwork before we could cut it up.

“One of the guys suggested Cillit Bang. He remembered seeing it dissolve the grime on a coin in an advert on TV and thought it was worth looking at. I’m very glad we did. We tested it and found it very effective.”

The 15-strong clean-up team wear whole-body plastic suits with their own oxygen supply and often need four or even five layers of gloves to protect them from radiation.

Mr Manson added: “The ductwork is stainless steel and contamination levels have been significantly reduced following spray and wipedown with Cillit Bang.”

Bosses at the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria, which is also being decommissioned, are among those who have been in touch to learn more about the discovery.

Stay here for a cent a night

I saw this report from Reuters in Rome today. Thanks to a mistake in the online booking system thousands of punters booked a room in this rather nice Venician hotel for one cent a night….

Hundreds of holiday makers struck lucky when they chanced upon a very special offer — a mistake in a hotel booking system which offered a romantic four-star weekend in Italy’s lagoon city of Venice for 1 cent.

The offer, a tiny fraction of the Crowne Plaza Quarto D’Altino’s normal rate of up to 150 euros ($214) a night, was quickly withdrawn when staff realized the mistake, Italian state TV reported.

In just a few hours, some 1,400 nights had been booked under the tariff, costing an estimated 90,000 euros for the hotel, part of the Intercontinental Hotels Group, the world’s largest chain, media reported.

Staff at the hotel, some 25 km (16 miles) outside Venice, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Intercontinental Hotels Group was not immediately available.

“Pop, I’ll be right back, because we have to talk.”

This one really pulled my heart-strings, written by Maria Glod at the Washington Post
40,000 dead bodies lie waiting to be identified across the US. The Namus system attempts to identify them. I’ve included more about that system at the end of this article.

Authorities in Virginia have identified the body of a teenager who went missing 14 years ago in their first success using a new nationwide database that seeks to put names on thousands of dead people who have gone unidentified, sometimes for decades.

Prosecutors in Maryland hope to use the same system to finally close a homicide case that has resulted in a mistrial and a hung jury.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, is an online tool aimed at naming the countless John and Jane Does whose remains have been shelved in the offices of medical examiners and police forensic labs across the country. It matches missing persons cases with the nameless bodies or skeletons.

Police, medical examiners, coroners and family members all have access to the database, and they try to take information from the years-old missing persons reports and match them to details from the dead bodies.

In the Virginia case, a detailed description of Toussaint Gumbs’s body — down to a scar on the 16-year-old’s thigh — was entered on the site. A volunteer surfing the Web flagged the similarities with reports of Toussaint’s disappearance in Richmond. Using the latest DNA technology, officials helped confirm the teenager’s death and finally gave his family an answer.

For Robert Gumbs, who was convinced that his son had gotten into drugs and run off with friends, the truth brought pain but also a chance to mourn.

“I just started screaming in my room,” said Gumbs, who lives in New York and learned of his son’s death in recent weeks. “I never thought that he was dead. The last words he said to me was, ‘Pop, I’ll be right back, because we have to talk.’ ”

Kristina Rose, acting director of the National Institute of Justice, said the potential for NamUs is extraordinary. “Instead of having this fragmented system where people go to coroners, to medical examiners, to law enforcement, we have everything in a central repository,” she said. “People can participate in identifying their loved ones. They are the ones who are going to work late into the night to go through the case files.”

Each year, about 4,400 sets of unidentified human remains turn up in parks, woods, abandoned houses and other places, according to a 2007 federal report. Although authorities quickly identify most of them, about 1,000 are still unknown a year later. Estimates of the total vary widely, from 13,500 to 40,000.

The Web site linking the rolls of the missing with the descriptions of the dead is growing daily as authorities and family members add entries. It is a sad catalogue of clues, some gruesome, some mundane. A woman who died in Rock Creek Park in February 2008 carried lip balm and a bag of wrapped hard candy in the pocket of her blue winter coat. A young man killed in a fiery 1983 car crash in Montgomery County had a mustache. In 1976, a woman’s headless, fingerless body, naked and bound, washed up on an island in the Chesapeake Bay.

“There are mothers and fathers that, for years, wake up every day wanting to know what happened to their child. That’s why we do this,” said Arthur Eisenberg, co-director of the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, which works to identify remains and provides free DNA testing to family members of the missing.

The database gives hope to people such as Darlene Huntsman, who has never stopped searching for her sister, Bernadette Caruso. One day in 1986, Caruso, among the more than 100,500 people reported missing nationwide as of this month, left her job at a Baltimore County jewelry store. The young mother has not been seen by her family sinceHuntsman painstakingly entered each known detail of her sister’s disappearance in NamUs, knowing that any fact could be the one to trigger a match. Caruso probably wore her Mickey Mouse watch. She was dressed in a black tank dress, with a pink tank underneath, and pink flats. She left Eastpoint Mall about 5:05 p.m. that September evening.

Huntsman and other family members also gave genetic samples to be compared to those from bodies and skeletons. “It makes you feel like you are doing something for that person,” Huntsman said. “You feel that she knows that you are still trying.”

The concept of the database was born in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, when the challenges of matching missing people with human remains became clear. Medical examiners and coroners began to enter descriptions of unidentified remains in 2007, and there are now 5,225 in the database, including 273 from Maryland, Virginia and the District. This year, missing persons cases were added; there are 1,772 open cases.

This month, NamUs began automatically comparing profiles and sending alerts to law enforcement or families when a missing persons report bears similarities to unidentified remains. But so far, successes have largely come from family members of victims, or others, who scan the site.

Those possible matches are critical to forensic sleuths, who can then work to match facial features or dental records, said Kevin Whaley, a Virginia assistant chief medical examiner. At the same time, the latest DNA testing allows scientists to extract genetic material from bones and compare it to samples from surviving family members.

In Virginia, the Department of Forensic Science and the medical examiner’s office have been awarded a $443,682 federal grant to help identify almost 100 sets of human remains stored by medical examiners in the state and investigate an additional 177 cases dating to the 1970s.

Brad Jenkins, a Department of Forensic Science analyst who worked on the Toussaint Gumbs case, said that by using mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists might be able to get answers where traditional genetic testing falls short. “We have bones and skeletons that are 10 or 20 years old,” Jenkins said. “We can go back and revisit those cases.”

NamUs might have provided an answer, and more evidence, for Anne Arundel authorities who twice have tried to prosecute a homicide case without the body of a 21-year-old man authorities say was killed in 2007. The first attempt ended in a mistrial, the second in a hung jury.

A forensic scientist looking at the database noticed that a partial skeleton found last year in Baltimore that had an orthopedic screw in the leg seemed to match a description of Michael Francis. Kristin Fleckenstein, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel state’s attorney’s office, said there are indications that the remains are Francis’s but that her office is awaiting the results of DNA tests.

“We have taken this case to trial without a body, and we are prepared to do that again,” Fleckenstein said. But she added that seeking a murder conviction without a body “does present a hurdle.”

For Bernadette Caruso’s family, July marks a sad milestone: She has been missing for as long as she had been with them. Caruso would have celebrated her 46th birthday July 2.

“We never thought it would take this long to find out what happened to her,” Huntsman said. “We’d like to see her remains be found. We’d like to give her some justice.”

The NamUs System

There are perhaps 40,000 sets of unidentified human remains held by medical examiners and coroners across the country, according to government estimates. A patchwork of record-keeping policies govern the related data.

With that in mind, the Justice Department has created the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a searchable database of “unidentified decedents,” in hopes of matching remains to missing persons, an estimated 100,000 of which exist in the U.S. at any given time.

The more information in a NamUs profile, the more likely a match can be made. NamUs has created a five-star rating system indicating how much information is in a file, a hint at how likely it might be that the remains can be identified. Information about the system for rating profiles of unidentified persons is below.

The Rating System (click through to see the real thing)

1-star
One-star listings include the location, date and condition of a found body (or body part).
See an example.

2-star
Two-star entries require distinctive physical features, clothing or jewelry.
See an example.

3-star
Three-star listings include fingerprint data, dental information or a facial photo (or artist’s rendering).
See an example.

4-star example
Four-star ratings add a DNA profile to the information required for a three-star profile.
See an example.

5-star example
Entries with five stars include a recognizable face along with a photo, artist’s rendering, fingerprint, DNA and dental information.

A tale of two brothers.

This story is about a pubic school educated terrorist, found in today´s Telegraph

The picturesque village of Frenchay on the edge of Bristol with its expansive green and imposing Grade II listed church, backing onto open countryside should have been the perfect setting for Andrew Ibrahim to grow up. His father, an eminent consultant pathologist at the nearby hospital and lecturer at the university, had bought an imposing Victorian stone house at the end of a private lane and could afford to send his two sons to the 300-year-old Colston’s private school, housed in a former palace of the Bishop of Bristol in nearby Stapelton.

For one son it was a recipe that led to success in athletics, school prefecture, Oxford University, bar school and a career with a US law firm in the City of London.

For the other it led to a series of obsessions with drugs, computer games, Islam and terrorism, and eventually to the dock of Winchester Crown Court.

“The two brothers could not be more different,” a senior police officer involved with the case said. “It’s a perfect example of nature versus nurture.”

Their father Nassif, 61, a Coptic Christian originally from Egypt, is a collector of antique pottery, stamps, coins and, his son says, Nazi memorabilia.

His wife, Victoria, known as Vicky, originally from West Yorkshire, is a church-going Christian who took the children on coach holidays and works as an administrator at Bristol University Medical School.

Andrew was always in the shadow of his older brother Peter, six years his senior, and reacted by constantly seeking attention.

Overweight but far from stupid himself, he played the class fool so successfully that he was expelled from a series of private schools, becoming every middle class parent’s nightmare.

He smoked cannabis at the age of 12, became hooked on “role playing” computer games, and used his father’s computer to look up material on Osama bin Laden and explosives alongside his Latin homework.

“I didn’t like football,” he said. “It’s difficult to know how to put it, it made me feel cooler. I didn’t have friends or a social life and it made me feel better about myself. I felt not such a sad loser.”

His parents moved him from Colston’s junior school to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital School, an even older public school in the centre of Bristol which boasts the Queen as its patron, where they hoped he would escape from the shadow of his brother.

Instead he hung around with older pupils and started taking cannabis to be “different from the other kids of that sort of age,” he said.

He bragged about using drugs to his fellow pupils, leading to his suspension on January 24 2002, the day before his 13th birthday.

Returning to Colston’s, Ibrahim’s weight and lack of sporting ability helped other pupils label him a “loser” and his increasingly unruly behaviour led the school to ask him to leave in December 2002, shortly before his 14th birthday.

His next stop was Downside, a Catholic boarding school near Bath founded in 1606 that counts the journalist Auberon Waugh and hotelier Sir Rocco Forte among its old boys.

Bullied and laughed at, he again turned to cannabis and experimented with ecstasy, sneaking out at night and inviting local boys back to his dormitory, leading to his suspension.

Ibrahim joined Bristol Cathedral School in September 2004 – then the bottom of the heap of Bristol private schools and now a government academy – but the school helped him pass eight GCSEs in June 2005, including English language at grade A, five at grade B and one each at grades C and D.

But he had once again alienated fellow pupils and by the end of the year he was experimenting with drugs again, this time magic mushrooms, ecstasy and cocaine.

Ibrahim had also become addicted to on-line computer games involving “role playing” such as Diablo II, Mass Effect and Metal Gear Solid.

During the school holidays he would play from 7am until midnight but after leaving school, the addiction led to him dropping out of City of Bristol College where he was supposed to be studying for A-levels.

His father became increasingly exasperated with his behaviour and asked Vicky to move out with their son when Ibrahim came home drunk from a party with his eyebrow pierced.

Mother and son moved into a flat nearby but Ibrahim walked out when his mother found ecstasy and ketamine tablets in the flat.

Despite his increasing addiction, his parents stood by him, splitting the rent with him on a flat in Kingswood, a suburb in North East Bristol, with his mother doing a weekly food shop for him.

At the flat, Ibrahim had videos of women’s feet he had taken on his mobile phone at college without their knowledge, which he admitted were part of a “sexual interest” and he had searched for pictures of Kiera Knightley’s feet on the internet.

He had become hooked on heroin and crack cocaine, using the drugs several times a day and stealing to fund his habit.

He was reprimanded by police for possessing heroin in May 2006 at the age of 17 and warned for shoplifting on two occasions in September and October 2006.

By the end of 2006, Ibrahim had lost what little he had built up around him – his girlfriend of 18 months, teetotal and clear-headed, eventually walked away when he started injecting heroin in front of her.

“In the end she didn’t want it any more. I was quite upset, I was heartbroken,” he said.

He was still holding down a job at Lloyds Bank but turned to a new addiction  steroids, attending the Empire Gym in the run down area of St Paul’s in Bristol where he took up body building and started injecting Deca-Durabolin and Sustanon 250.

Alongside his various addictions, Ibrahim had five tattoos done during 2005 and 2006, including “Hardcore” across his stomach and “HTID” on his right bicep to represent “Hardcore Till I Die” after a style of rave music.

He also had a variety of hairstyles and colours along with a series of facial and intimate piercings.

On his Myspace internet account in April 2006, Ibrahim was pictured with spiky red hair and described himself as “Andy” and his religion as “Muslim.”

By early 2007, Ibrahim was forced to move into the St George’s House hostel in central Bristol because he was not paying the rent.

He sold the Big Issue magazine for the homeless on the street, using the money to fund his £60-a-day drug habit.

When his father came across him outside the Broadmead Shopping Centre he started meeting him once a week to buy him food and take him for a meal.

Already struggling with their son’s various obsessions, his turn to Islam came as yet another blow to Ibrahim’s parents – his mother’s reaction was simply: “Don’t start that now.”

Ibrahim said he traveled to Birmingham in the summer of 2006 with a friend of his father’s and converted at the Green Lanes mosque around the time of the anniversary of the July 7 bombings.

He decided to study to be a Muslim scholar in the Yemen but instead settled on a seven year course in Birmingham, which his mother agreed to pay for.

By December he had grown a beard and was wearing white robes, sandals and an Islamic headscarf.

But he soon dropped his interest and returned to drugs until, returning to City of Bristol College to study for AS and A-levels in chemistry, biology, history, English language, and science of public understanding, he started praying again with fellow students at a room at the college.

Ibrahim said, he “wasn’t so much interested in Islam as the politics” particularly Palestine and Iraq and he used a college computer to download videos of US troops being killed in Iraq, along with speeches by the jailed cleric Abu Hamza.

But his most serious obsession became that of the suicide bomber, looking at the videos made by the July 7 bombers and Asif Hanif, Britain’s first suicide bomber who died in Israel.

“I did spend a lot of time looking at [internet sites]. It was an obsessive interest, I accept that,” he said.

He was eventually given a council flat in Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol where he began building bombs.

Ibrahim had been playing the computer game Assassin’s Creed and claimed he was just “role playing” the part of a terrorist.

As he struggled to come off drugs, he said he decided to make a suicide vest to “occupy my time,” using a video he found on the internet for instructions.

“I wanted it to look good because I was going to film it like I did with the explosives and put it on YouTube,” he added.

Easter Island holds key to longer life.

I read this story this morning in the Independent written by Michael McCarthy. The soil in Easter Island appears to contain a substance that actually prolongs life. Is that what those lovely Modiliagni style heads have been trying to tell us all these years? Do you think maybe the ancients were showing us an emblem of people who were “longer”?  Geddit? OK call me stupid, you’re right…..

A drug originating on Easter Island, the mysterious South Pacific home of a lost statue-building people, may become the first substance to slow down human ageing, new research indicates.

Rapamycin, a pharmacological product used to prevent rejection in organ transplants, has been found to extend the lifespan of mice by up to 38 per cent, raising the possibility that it may delay ageing in people.

Hitherto a matter for science fiction, the idea of an anti-ageing drug which would allow people to prolong their natural lifespan and also to avoid age-related diseases is now being seriously considered for the first time as a result of the findings by American researchers.

Rapamycin is a bacterial product originally found in a soil sample from Easter Island, the Polynesian extinct volcano famous for its monumental statues erected hundreds of years ago by the island people, and known in the region as Rapa Nui – hence the drug’s name. Originally developed as an anti-fungal agent, rapamycin was soon found to have powerful immuno-suppressant properties and thus be valuable for preventing rejection of transplanted organs. It was also found to delay the ageing process when used experimentally with three sets of lower organisms: yeast, nematode worms and fruit flies.

Now, however, it has been shown to affect the ageing of mice – the first time that this has ever been shown with a mammal.

A team of 14 researchers from three institutions, led by David Harrison from the Jackson Laboratory at Bar Harbor in Maine, fed rapamycin to mice late in their life – at 600 days of age – and showed that both the median and maximal lifespan of treated animals were considerably extended. Currently, the only way to extend the life of a rodent is by severely restricting its diet, so this marks the first report of a pharmacological intervention that lengthens the life of mammals – with clear implications for humans.

The results, published today in an online paper on the website of the journal Nature, are attracting considerable excitement, and an accompanying article in Nature by two of the world’s leading experts on the ageing process, Matt Kaeberlein and Brian K Kennedy from the University of Washington, Seattle, headed “A Midlife Longevity Drug?” openly asks the question: “Is this the first step towards an anti-ageing drug for people?”

Their answer is that it may well be. Dr Kaeberlein and Dr Kennedy first issued a warning to people not to start taking rapamycin at once in the hope of prolonging their lives – “the potential immuno-suppressive effects of this compound alone are sufficient to caution against this,” they advised.

But they added: “On the basis of animal models, however, it is interesting to consider that rapamycin … might prove useful in combating many age-associated disorders. Also … it may be possible to develop pharmacological strategies that provide the health and longevity benefits without unwanted side-effects.

“So, although extending human lifespan with a pill remains the purview of science fiction writers for now, the results of Harrison et al provide a reason for optimism that even during middle age, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

Rapamycin was known to have an influence on ageing in the lower organisms by disrupting the influence of an enzyme known as TOR, which regulates cell growth. Dr Harrison and colleagues found that this was also the case with mice, and found that rapamycin feeding could extend mouse lifespan even when started late in life.

The maximum lifespan went up from 1,094 days to 1,245 days for female mice, and from 1,078 to 1,179 for male mice – a striking increase of life expectancy of 38 per cent for females and 28 per cent for males.

Dr Harrison and his colleagues conclude: “An effective anti-ageing intervention that could be initiated later than the midpoint of the lifespan could prove to be especially relevant to clinical situations, in which the efficacy of anti-ageing interventions would be particularly difficult to test in younger volunteers. Our data justify special attention to the role of the TOR pathway in control of ageing in mammals and in the pathogenesis of late-life illnesses.”

Also known as sirolimus, rapamycin was first discovered as a product of the bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus, which was found in an Easter Island soil sample.

Probably the world’s most remote and least-visited inhabited island, Easter Island is globally famous for its haunting monumental stone statues of human faces, set up around the coast, known as Moai. Weighing as much as 80 tonnes, they were carved by a lost people, whose society may have collapsed, according to the American environmental geographer Jared Diamond, when they overexploited their forests. Volcanic, hilly and now treeless, and a territory of Chile, the island is situated 2,180 miles west of Chile itself and 1,290 miles east of Pitcairn Island; its European name comes from its discovery on Easter Sunday 1722, by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen. Its oldest known Polynesian name is thought to be Te Pito O Te Henua, meaning “the navel of the world”. Rapa Nui is a name given to it by Tahitian sailors in the 19th century.

Gormley not gormless.

 

Love him or loathe him, Adrian Searle writes a really mean article. In the Guardian today the way in which he elevates Antony Gormley’s efforts with the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is an art in its own right. (Not to denigrate Mr Gormley of course, I think he is ace.)

In encouraging the public to act, react and interact around Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, Gormley’s One and Other is timely – and invokes a rich tradition of living art

At a little before 9am, today a protester scaled the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square to demonstrate against actors smoking. He was followed by the first official occupant, who stood with a giant lollipop emblazoned with the logo of the NSPCC. Strangely, all this was somehow less compelling than the man in shorts and red T-shirt who came next. He had no apparent agenda at all, except being there. Most of the time, he stood near the lip of the plinth with his hands in his pockets, like a character in search of an author. His presence was what counted. Just as some sculptures have more presence than others (a tiny bronze Giacometti can somehow fill a whole room), so it is with the living.

Not everyone here will be a living sculpture. Some who are lifted on to the plinth will be living advertisements for themselves, craving attention, fame or notoriety. I expect numerous hapless performances, a bit of nudity, protests and declarations at all hours of the day and night. There’s always the chance someone might immolate themselves, or defecate, urinate, masturbate or vomit. Are they allowed shoelaces or belts up there? Are they frisked for weapons or secret intentions? Is there a contingency for those who might wish to give birth, or any potential suicides? Taking a running jump, it would be easy to hurl oneself over the safety net to the paving slabs below. Anyone attempting to recreate the artist Yves Klein’s famous 1960 Leap into the Void, a photograph of him suspended in mid-air above the street, should be warned – his image was doctored. And what about snipers on nearby rooftops, kids with catapults, miscreants with rotten eggs, bricks, guns? A stoning is entirely possible.

Living sculpture has a long and intriguing history. On 1 January 1901 the bullfighter Don Tancredo López covered himself in whitewash and stood on a box in the middle of the bullring in Madrid; the bull circled him but did not attack. López was a statue of himself risking death. When Gilbert and George covered their hands and faces in gold paint, stood on a table and performed Flanagan and Allen’s song Underneath the Arches in a London gallery in 1969, they risked only the derision of the art crowd.

In 1974 Chris Burden spent 22 days on a platform in a New York gallery; and in 2002, the Montenegran artist Marina Abramovicć spent 12 days and nights on a platform, eating nothing and only drinking water. She slept and performed all her ablutions in full view of the public. An hour on a plinth isn’t long, but Trafalgar Square is a different, far more public context, with live action from the plinth streamed on the web 24 hours a day.

So far the most memorable work since the fourth plinth was turned over to contemporary art has been Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo, a life-sized cast of a young man in a loincloth, which appeared in 1999. The white resin cast looked like marble. Standing on the edge of the plinth, facing the square, it had more presence than the people who have so far been hoisted there; asking why this might be is a question both about sculpture, and about ourselves.

Yet Gormley’s idea is a rich one. It combines a very old idea about images, and sculptures on plinths in public spaces, with the digital age and the spectacle of reality TV. We know that paying attention to an experiment often changes its outcome. Those who stand and watch have all sorts of expectations and fantasies. The square below is a space for the curious and the ghoulish, for voyeurs and louts; it, as well as the plinth, is a space of transit and for waiting, and for all sorts of performances and gestures. We are all actors here, under the watchful cameras of Sky Arts.

Gormley offers the possibility both for action and inaction. This is where the project’s magic lies – and also its danger. It is probably his best work, even if it risks bringing out the worst in people. The artist has set up the conditions, and what follows is unknown.

Health Secretary says swine flu cases could reach more than 100,000 per day by the end of August.

Today’s Daily Telegraph runs a short feature quoting the UK Health Secretary Andy Burnham predicting a real surge in the swine flu numbers. We’ve had this illness in our house already – but that doesn’t mean we’re immune as the virus mutates.

Andy Burnham has warned that swine flu could reach 100,000 cases a day by August

The UK has moved past the stage of containing the swine flu outbreak and into the “treatment phase”, he said.

“We have reached the next stage in management of the disease,” Mr Burnham said on Thursday.

“The national focus will be on treating the increasing numbers affected by swine flu.

“We will move to this treatment phase across the UK with immediate effect.”

There are now 7,447 laboratory-confirmed cases in the UK, he said.

London and the West Midlands have already had sufficiently high numbers to move towards a policy of outbreak management, which saw people with swine flu clinically diagnosed rather than being confirmed by laboratory reports.

Mr Burnham said that last week saw a “considerable rise” in swine flu cases.

“There are now on average several hundred new cases every day,” he said.

“Our efforts during the containment phase have given us precious time to learn more about the virus.

“We have always known it would be impossible to contain the virus indefinitely and at some point we would need to move away from containment to treatment.”

He added: “We have now signed contracts to secure enough vaccine for the whole population.”

The first will become available next month, with 60 million doses available by the end of the year.

Washington Post reports the city’s worst train smash.

This excellent “traditional” reporting from Washington Post writers Rosalind S. Helderman and David A. Fahrenthold speaks for itself, in telling the story of the Metroline’s worst ever train crash in Washington earlier today. Anyone who commutes is made to think and consider for a moment or two.

In the first car of the six-car Red Line train, on a sunny-day evening commute, passengers heard a message familiar to any Metrorail rider: The conductor said they were holding for a moment — there was a train ahead.

The train started moving again, picking up to moderate speed.

Then, without even the squeal of brakes as a warning, there was a crash and the feeling of being lifted up as the train hit one that was stopped.

In the moments after the crash, passengers made tourniquets out of T-shirts, struggled to pull debris off others and sought to calm the hysterical and the gravely wounded. Inside the worst-hit car, waiting on ambulances and the “jaws of life,” an Anglican priest led a group in the Lord’s Prayer. On the ground below, a civilian Pentagon employee told a wounded girl that he wouldn’t accept her last wish, that she was going to live.

Inside the car, there was dust and broken glass and blood. Seats had been ripped from the floor and thrown around: One man was trapped between two of them, with a leg that appeared broken. A woman was screaming, invisible, buried beneath a pile of seats.

But the most incredible thing was the floor itself. It was gone, peeled away. Passengers could look down and see the grooved metal roof of another Metro train.

“The front of the train just opened up,” said Marcie Bacchus, 30, who was among a handful of passengers in the car at the center of the deadliest accident in Metro’s 33-year history.

The crash happened about 5 p.m. on an aboveground stretch of track that runs through neighborhoods between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations. Authorities said one Red Line train rear-ended another, hitting with such force that its first car was thrown on top of the other train.

Brianna Milstead, 17, a high school student from Waldorf, was in that car. She could see out the front window, and she saw the other train getting closer, but it was too late to react.
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“It happened so quick,” Milstead said, looking at her ash-covered hands. “The floor smushed up. It was lifted up. I saw the debris flying toward me. I was choking on the smoke.”

Dave Bottoms, 39, had just left his job as an Army chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Anglican priest was in the back of the front car that slammed into the stopped train. When he saw the train buckling, it looked just like it would in the movies, he said.

“It felt like it was going in slow motion,” he said. “I started praying.”

In the chaotic moments after the crash, he went to a young woman who had been pinned between seats. She was hysterical, he said, but he began calming her.

Meanwhile, the emergency exit and the doors were jammed. A middle-aged man on the train grabbed a fire extinguisher to break one of the car’s windows.

When first responders arrived, Bottoms and two others initially refused to get off the train, wanting to continue to comfort the young woman pinned between the seats.

“I just talked with her,” he said. “I told her to pray.”

Passengers in other cars on the two trains said they felt a jolt, then opened the door and saw the wreckage: a car in the air, a man on the tracks. Some said they didn’t know what to do. Should they stay? Should they get off? They worried about the electrified third rail. In one group, a man said, “I’m getting off” and jumped out.

Mike Corcoran, 39, who was in another car, said someone burst into his section after the impact and said help was needed at the back of the train. He ran back and saw a man and woman pinned between seats.

Blood splattered the train’s windows, he said. Another woman was standing, he said, but her foot was bleeding profusely.

Corcoran pulled off his polo shirt, quickly yanked off his undershirt and tied it around the woman’s foot as a tourniquet. He told her to keep pressure on it until help arrived.

In the surrounding neighborhoods, residents were jolted by the sound of the crash and drawn to the scene, near where New Hampshire Avenue NE crosses over the Metro tracks.

“The folks were beating on the windows, trying to get out. I saw some of them on their cellphones. You can tell they didn’t know what was going on, but they knew something had happened,” Jervis Bryant said. “They were just scared.”

Linda Dixon, a Northeast Washington resident, was drawn by the sirens. She said she saw rescuers pull a man out of the wreckage on a stretcher, place him on the ground and pull a white sheet over him.
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Two hours later, the black van of the medical examiner’s office arrived. By then, the white sheet was stained with blood.

“Oh God, it’s just horrible. I feel so terrible because you just know there’s somebody waiting for him to come home. He’ll never get there,” Dixon said.

The crash’s impact rippled across Washington’s transportation network, crowding buses, stranding some travelers and leading others to commute on foot.

“It was confusion. A lot of confusion. You had people trying to bum rush the buses,” said Anthony McLemore, 41, of Takoma Park, who got on the Red Line at Farragut North not knowing that there had been a crash. More than two hours later, he arrived at Fort Totten, trying to catch his second bus of the day. The commute “was horrific,” he said.

Others across the region faced a different kind of wait, trying to figure out what happened to loved ones on the train.

Sharon Hodge was standing behind police lines at Oglethorpe Street NW and Blair Road, searching for her son, when an ambulance drove by. She was screaming out, “Corey, Corey, can you hear me? You in there? Mama’s here!” Her cellphone rang shortly thereafter. It was Corey. He was being taken to Washington Adventist Hospital. The 26-year-old had been on one of the trains with his aunt.

Afterward, passengers talked about coincidences, little things that had taken them just out of harm’s way. Savannah Green, 16, usually walks to the front car of the train to be closer to the exit at her destination. But yesterday, she was “too lazy” and got in the third car. She was not injured.

That’s what I call a Movie Premiere.

Hooray! A first ever inclusion for the Sydney Morning Herald – who give us the news today that Saudi Arabia is showing its first public movie in the cinemas for many a year. Thanks to Richard Dean for drawing my attention to this story.

Riyadh goes to the movies – for the first time
June 8, 2009 – 6:27AM

A few hundred Saudis braved a small band of religious hardliners to take part in an historic event on Saturday night: the first public showing of a commercial film in decades in the Saudi capital.

With bags of popcorn and soft drinks in their laps, the men-only crowd of more than 300 in Riyadh’s huge King Fahd Cultural Centre cheered, whistled and clapped when the first scenes of the Saudi-made Menahi hit the screen and the film’s score erupted in surround sound.

“This is the beginning of change,” said university student Ahmed al-Mokayed, attending with his brother and cousin.

Businessman Abdul Mohsen al-Mani, who brought his two sons to the film, was ecstatic, after being denied public cinema for some three decades.

“This is the first step in a peaceful revolution,” he said.

“I don’t want my two sons to grow up in the dark … I told them that in the future they will talk about today like a joke,” he added.

It was long in coming — and no one is certain that it will launch a thriving public cinema industry, with strident opposition from clerics who regard film, music and other entertainment as violating Islamic teachings.

Police at the venue had to fend off a small band of conservative Muslims who warned that films were bringing disasters on the country, citing a recent series of minor earthquakes in western Saudi Arabia.

“Allah is punishing us for the cinema,” one said. “It is against Islam.”

“Menahi”, a comedy about a Saudi country bumpkin getting lost in the big city, was shown in December to huge crowds in the relatively free-wheeling Red Sea city of Jeddah.

Signs of heat in Korea.

Chinese Ships Leave West Sea Border. I do like a laconic headline. This is justastory’s first ever featured article from the Korea Times, reported by Kim Sue-young. It’s about a sudden early departure of Chinese fishing vessels from the waters surrounding Korea’s borderlines. Could be something. Could be nothing. Personally I am of the former view.

Chinese vessels fishing illegally in the West Sea have begun to leave the waters near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), an area that could alert South Korea’s military to a possible provocation by the North.

The military is keeping a close watch on the communist regime’s moves, especially over a possible clash near the NLL West Sea border, Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said Friday.

“It is true that the number of Chinese fishing vessels in the West Sea fell by more than half,” Won said. “We are closely monitoring North Korea’s moves, given that this may signal North Korea’s possible provocative action.”

He did not rule out the possibility that the evacuation may have been caused by the closed fishing season which will started June 1 or that the vessels may already have caught enough fish.

But a military source said on condition of anonymity that North Korea might have demanded the withdrawal.

“About 160 Chinese vessels deserted the area in a day, spawning speculation that either the Chinese authorities or North Korea might may have called for immediate evacuation,” he said.

Chinese vessels usually leave the area in mid-June and return between late August and early September but made their departure about two weeks early, the source added.

According to the military and maritime police, more than 100 Chinese ships were fishing around Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea where two confrontations between South and North Korean patrol boats have taken place.

The second battle broke out in 2002 as a North Korean patrol boat crossed the NLL despite warnings, which left six South Korean soldiers dead and 19 injured.

The communist state has escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula by launching a long-range rocket on April 5 and conducting an underground nuclear test on May 25. The international community as well as South Korea condemned the activities, claiming it is a violation of U.N. resolutions.

After Seoul declared full participation in a U.S.-led security initiative to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction earlier this week, Pyongyang warned of a military clash.

On Thursday, the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command raised its surveillance on North Korea to the level two.

After surviving 6,000 ft fall, man threatened by Russian hospital hygiene.

This story from today’s Guardian should be fiction but isn’t.

A stunt skydiver and cameraman who survived a 6,000ft (1,829 metre) fall on to a remote Russian mountain when a parachute jump went wrong has told of his miraculous escape.

James Boole, 31, suffered a broken back, a cracked rib, a bruised lung and several chipped teeth following the jump last month when he hurtled to the ground at approximately 90 miles per hour, landing in a snowdrift.

Boole, a veteran of 2,500 skydives, was filming for a television documentary with another skydiver in the remote Russian region of Kamchatka when the accident happened. He and the other skydiver were disorientated by the snow and were unable to judge the altitude as they came to land on the final jump of their 10-day trip.

Boole said that in the two seconds before he hit the ground, he was aware that there was not enough time to open his chute and thought he was about to die.

“I didn’t panic or freak out,” he said. “In those two seconds I just thought of my wife and young baby and the sadness of not seeing them again plus the loneliness of my death.”

His parachute partially opened, but far too late, and he landed on his back and was briefly unconscious from the impact.

Then he faced an agonising half-hour wait in sub-zero temperatures before a helicopter was able to reach him. It was three hours before he was able to reach the nearest hospital.

“I opened my eyes and was immediately elated to be alive,” he said. “I did not think I would survive the fall. Breathing was incredibly difficult, there was blood in my mouth and I was in excruciating pain from my spine. My first three instincts were to breathe, vomit and scream.”

He was concerned as there was quite a lot of gurgling from his airways and about the difficulty of accessing medical treatment in such a remote area of Russia.

“There was no Hollywood moment of my life flashing in front of me as I fell, there was no glory that jumpers sometimes fantasise about if they are facing death,” he said.

“During that half hour, I was going through great highs and lows of emotion. I was glad to be alive and just wanted to see my wife and daughter but was thinking I wouldn’t ever be able to work again and would never recover from my injuries.

“In the end I thought those thoughts weren’t very useful and just had to focus on my immediate problems as my broken rib was making it difficult to breathe.”

Boole was taken by helicopter and ambulance to the nearest hospital at Kamchatsky city.

The hospital was primitive “with paint peeling off walls, the filaments visible in lightbulbs, patients in corridors, smoking allowed on wards and blood on the x-ray machines”. As for the food, he says it was “absolutely disgusting”.

Within 48 hours, he discharged himself from hospital and transferred to Moscow for further treatment. “I got to hospital and immediately had a CT scan, which was able to get a diagnosis.”

He flew back to the UK for further medical treatment at a hospital in London and is now home with his family in Tamworth, Staffordshire, where he is enjoying spending time with his daughter.

“Thanks to the back brace I was able to stand up after six days,” he says. “Over the last three weeks I have been taking my first tentative steps again.”

He has given up skydiving with a camera but will continue with the sport for fun. “I have re-evaluated my life and it is not something I want to ever do again with a camera,” he added.

“However, I have my own motivation to jump for fun and I will continue to do that.”

Did plain clothes police incite crowds to violence at the G20?

I have to say I didn’t expect to find a story like this in The Observer. The International Times maybe, or some other scurrilous lefty rag from the 1970’s might have run a piece about how the police planted plain clothes men in the crowd of protestors at the G20 summit, inciting other crowd members to throw stones and bottles…….I don’t believe that, said my 16 year old – here it is in the Observer I said……..apparently witnessed by an MP…..

An MP who was involved in last month’s G20 protests in London is to call for an investigation into whether the police used agents provocateurs to incite the crowds.

Liberal Democrat Tom Brake says he saw what he believed to be two plain-clothes police officers go through a police cordon after presenting their ID cards.

Brake, who along with hundreds of others was corralled behind police lines near Bank tube station in the City of London on the day of the protests, says he was informed by people in the crowd that the men had been seen to throw bottles at the police and had encouraged others to do the same shortly before they passed through the cordon.

Brake, a member of the influential home affairs select committee, will raise the allegations when he gives evidence before parliament’s joint committee on human rights on Tuesday.

“When I was in the middle of the crowd, two people came over to me and said, ‘There are people over there who we believe are policemen and who have been encouraging the crowd to throw things at the police,'” Brake said. But when the crowd became suspicious of the men and accused them of being police officers, the pair approached the police line and passed through after showing some form of identification.

Brake has produced a draft report of his experiences for the human rights committee, having received written statements from people in the crowd. These include Tony Amos, a photographer who was standing with protesters in the Royal Exchange between 5pm and 6pm. “He [one of the alleged officers] was egging protesters on. It was very noticeable,” Amos said. “Then suddenly a protester seemed to identify him as a policeman and turned on him. He ­legged it towards the police line, flashed some ID and they just let him through, no questions asked.”

Amos added: “He was pretty much inciting the crowd. He could not be called an observer. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories but this really struck me. Hopefully, a review of video evidence will clear this up.”

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has received 256 complaints relating to the G20 protests. Of these, 121 have been made about the use of force by police officers, while 75 relate to police tactics. The IPCC said it had no record of complaints involving the use of police agents provocateurs. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “We would never deploy officers in this way or condone such behaviour.”

The use of plain-clothes officers in crowd situations is considered a vital tactic for gathering evidence. It has been used effectively to combat football hooliganism in the UK and was employed during the May Day protests in 2001.

Brake said he intends to raise the allegations with the Met’s commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, when he next appears before the home affairs select committee. “There is a logic having plain-clothes officers in the crowd, but no logic if the officers are actively encouraging violence, which would be a source of great concern,” Brake said.

The MP said that given only a few people were allowed out of the corralled crowd for the five hours he was held inside it, there should be no problem in investigating the allegation by examining video footage.

For the first time in forty years, road traffic falls.

My week has been disrupted by health issues – so apologies to regular readers for the non-appearance of stories in the past fourteen days. I may well post a separate story about this – as it is interesting – still under consideration.

This story in the Independent  caught my interest. Road traffic levels – ie the number of cars and lorries actually using the road has dropped for the first time in nearly forty years. Some commentators have said that this points to real problems in the road haulage business – there’s no doubt that’s true. However, one of the dads watching school sports with me the other week told me that his car (a vintage Mercedes) had been stolen from outside his house a couple of weeks ago and after much discussion they had decided not to replace it. My kids have been pressing me for a year now on the vehicle issue. I wonder how much of the current decline is due to impulses like this – as well as the obvious economic pressures?

Traffic on Britain’s roads is decreasing significantly for the first time since the three-day week of the early 1970s, suggesting the car economy is heading for a crash, official figures revealed yesterday.

In a sign that the country is already in recession, fewer car and lorry journeys on motorways, rural and urban roads were made over the last six months compared to the same period a year ago.

The Department for Transport (DfT) recorded two consecutive quarters where road traffic has decreased year on year – the first time for more than 30 years. If the trend continues to the end of the year, it will hugely undermine the “great car economy” championed by Margaret Thatcher.

At the same time, sales of new cars have fallen by 23 per cent and are at their lowest since 1996. The motor industry is suffering across the world, with Volvo, the Swedish giant, selling just 115 heavy trucks over the past few months, compared to 41,970 during the same period last year – a 99.7 per cent fall.

And the jobs of 3,700 people at two UK car plants are at risk after General Motors warned it would be bankrupt within months unless it received a bailout from the US government.

The new traffic figures emerged as the Government prepares to announce car-related tax cuts as part of Gordon Brown’s strategy to get Britain through the recession. Planned vehicle excise duty increases for older cars are expected to be scrapped, while ministers are examining plans by the German government for tax reductions on green vehicles. On Friday the Prime Minister said he would work with other EU leaders on fiscal policy to support economic growth – a signal that tax cuts to reinvigorate the economy are being considered.

As Mr Brown and the Conservative leader, David Cameron, battle it out over the economy, a poll today puts the Conservatives 13 points ahead of Labour. The ICM survey for The Sunday Telegraph suggests that despite Labour’s surprise win in the Glenrothes by-election, the “Brown bounce” could be short-lived.

Besides the three-day week in 1973 and two world wars, traffic has steadily increased since the beginning of mass production of the motor car more than a century ago. But the new DfT figures show a 2.2 per cent decrease between July and September this year. This followed a 0.5 per cent decrease between April and June. The decline runs against the official predicted trend of an increase in traffic of 1-2 per cent a year.

Traffic congestion has also decreased on motorways and A-roads. The average vehicle delay on the slowest 10 per cent of journeys was 3.67 minutes, down from 3.95 minutes for the year ending September 2008.

Britain is in the early stages of a recession, with unemployment rising and industry shrinking, leading to fewer cars and HGVs on the roads. But during the recession of the 1990s, traffic remained static, suggesting there are other reasons for the decline.

It would appear thousands of motorists are giving up driving, either because of soaring fuel costs, rising parking and car taxes or because of the environmental cost.

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “It is too early to say there is a definite long-term trend here, but there is no doubt these are the best figures we have to go on suggesting a decline in traffic.”

Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth said: “The Government must help people to use their cars less – and tackle climate change – by giving them better public transport alternatives, and making it safer and easier to cycle and walk.”

Adrian Ramsay, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “It’s good to see that people are making better use of other travel options as they feel the pinch of the rising cost of using the car. There will be a limit to how many people can make this choice. Too many towns and cities have such poor and expensive public transport that people are stuck using the car.”

When she was Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher hailed the car-based economy as the ultimate expression of the individual over the state. In the 1980s and 1990s, road traffic rose substantially from 215 billion vehicle kilometres in the year 1980 to 378.7 billion in 2000. Last year traffic reached 513 billion vehicle kilometres.

Car ownership has steadily increased over the past decade, with the proportion of households in Britain without access to a car falling from 30 per cent in 1997 to 25 per cent in 2007. Homes with two or more cars outnumber those with no cars, increasing from 25 per cent to 32 per cent.

Road transport produces around a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions. Nearly 60 per cent of this is from cars. This summer petrol reached 118p a litre, but many retailers have since lowered this to below £1 a litre after criticism from the Prime Minister.

Gary Mahoney, 50, from Liverpool, works for the council’s environmental protection department. He gave up his Toyota Corolla seven months ago.

“The car was something of a family heirloom and I used it for the five-mile trip to work, as well as to take my mum round for her shopping. The car died about seven months ago and I decided to scrap it. I was sentimentally attached to it but it was the right time to get rid of it. I was increasingly uncomfortable with having the car because of my job. I am aware of the damage cars can do, particularly in terms of air pollution.

“Now I cycle to work, car-share with a colleague, or I take the bus and I walk a lot more than I did before. I feel a lot fitter physically and I get to work feeling a lot more alert than I used to. I also feel better about myself and better about the environment. I would encourage people to think about doing the same as me, if their circumstances allow it. I don’t miss having a car at all.”

Ian Griggs

Pentagon Cyber-Command about to be put in place. Remind you of anything?

Spencer S. Hsu tells us today in the Washington Post  that “A Pentagon Cyber-Command Is in the Works”. The story is dry and factual. But……anyone think of Isaac Asimov? Or something more recent perhaps?

The Obama administration is finalizing plans for a new Pentagon command to coordinate the security of military computer networks and to develop new offensive cyber-weapons, sources said last night.

Planning for the reorganization of Defense Department and intelligence agencies is underway, and a decision is imminent, according to a person familiar with the White House plans.

The new command would affect U.S. Strategic Command, whose mission includes ensuring U.S. “freedom of action” in space and cyberspace, and the National Security Agency, which shares Pentagon cybersecurity responsibilities with the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The Pentagon plans do not involve the Department of Homeland Security, which has responsibility for securing the government’s non-military computer domain.

But President Obama must approve the changes and Congress must be notified of them before they can be implemented, said this source, who has spoken with several White House and military officials. This individual spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process is still “in motion.”
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The Wall Street Journal first reported on the plans last night.

One question is whether the new command’s leader would be a military commander with a four-star rank. The NSA is currently led by Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who has three stars.

News of the proposal comes on the heels of a 60-day White House review of cybersecurity efforts. Federal agency deputies are expected to meet Friday to consider the recommendations of the review team.

Antisocial media. Would you like some snot with that fast food?

Two employees of Domino’s video themselves horribly messing up food they are about to deliver to people and post it on YouTube. The result isn’t very funny – and it’s not even interesting viewing. However, it does totally wreck Domino’s carefully nurtured brand image, according to this story published in the New York Times. The thing about “social media” like YouTube is that it gives everyone a voice and the chance to publish their views to millions of people. I think anyone who works on the internet knows the downside of this. How many times have we had to consider how to deal with people who think it’s funny to be totally obscene to other undeserving people for no good purpose. Call me conservative. I don’t think I am. I’m certainly no fan of fast food. I’m certainly no defender of “big name brands” at all costs. I’m not sure where this leaves me with my view of social media – other than that perhaps we should rename it antisocial media. Or perhaps – media that reflects society like it really is, and it’s too much to bear.

When two Domino’s Pizza employees filmed a prank in the restaurant’s kitchen, they decided to post it online. In a few days, thanks to the power of social media, they ended up with felony charges, more than a million disgusted viewers, and a major company facing a public relations crisis.

In videos posted on YouTube and elsewhere this week, a Domino’s employee in Conover, N.C., prepared sandwiches for delivery while putting cheese up his nose, nasal mucus on the sandwiches, and violating other health-code standards while a fellow employee provided narration.

The two were charged with delivering prohibited foods.

By Wednesday afternoon, the video had been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. References to it were in five of the 12 results on the first page of Google search for “Dominos,” and discussions about Domino’s had spread throughout Twitter.

As Domino’s is realizing, social media has the reach and speed to turn tiny incidents into marketing crises. In November, Motrin posted an ad suggesting that carrying babies in slings was a painful new fad. Unhappy mothers posted Twitter complaints about it, and bloggers followed; within days, Motrin had removed the ad and apologized.

On Monday, Amazon.com apologized for a “ham-fisted” error after Twitter members complained that the sales rankings for gay and lesbian books seemed to have disappeared — and, since Amazon took more than a day to respond, the social-media world criticized it for being uncommunicative.

According to Domino’s, the employees told executives that they had never actually delivered the tainted food. Still, Domino’s fired the two employees on Tuesday, and they were in the custody of the Conover police department on Wednesday evening, facing felony charges.

But the crisis was not over for Domino’s.

“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” said a Domino’s spokesman, Tim McIntyre, who added that the company was preparing a civil lawsuit. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

In just a few days, Domino’s reputation was damaged. The perception of its quality among consumers went from positive to negative since Monday, according to the research firm YouGov, which holds online surveys of about 1,000 consumers every day regarding hundreds of brands.

“It’s graphic enough in the video, and it’s created enough of a stir, that it gives people a little bit of pause,” said Ted Marzilli, global managing director for YouGov’s BrandIndex.

The Domino’s experience “is a nightmare,” said Paul Gallagher, managing director and a head of the United States crisis practice at the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. “It’s the toughest situation for a company to face in terms of a digital crisis.”

Mr. McIntyre was alerted to the videos on Monday evening by a blogger who had seen them. In the most popular video, a woman who identifies herself as Kristy films a co-worker, Michael, preparing the unsanitary sandwiches.

“In about five minutes it’ll be sent out on delivery where somebody will be eating these, yes, eating them, and little did they know that cheese was in his nose and that there was some lethal gas that ended up on their salami,” Kristy said. “Now that’s how we roll at Domino’s.”

On Monday, commenters at the site Consumerist.com used clues in the video to find the franchise location in Conover, and told Mr. McIntyre about the videos. On Tuesday, the Domino’s franchise owner fired the employees, identified by Domino’s as Kristy Hammonds, 31 and Michael Setzer, 32. The franchisee brought in the local health department, which advised him to discard all open containers of food, which cost hundreds of dollars, Mr. McIntyre said.

Ms. Hammonds apologized to the company in an e-mail message Tuesday morning. “It was fake and I wish that everyone knew that!!!!” she wrote. “I AM SOO SORRY!”

By Wednesday evening, the video had been removed from YouTube because of a copyright claim from Ms. Hammonds. Neither Ms. Hammonds nor Mr. Setzer were available for comment on Wednesday evening, said Conover’s chief of police, Gary W. Lafone.

As the company learned about the video on Tuesday, Mr. McIntyre said, executives decided not to respond aggressively, hoping the controversy would quiet down. “What we missed was the perpetual mushroom effect of viral sensations,” he said.

In social media, “if you think it’s not going to spread, that’s when it gets bigger,” said Scott Hoffman, the chief marketing officer of the social-media marketing firm Lotame. “We realized that when many of the comments and questions in Twitter were, ‘What is Domino’s doing about it’ ” Mr. McIntyre said. “Well, we were doing and saying things, but they weren’t being covered in Twitter.”

By Wednesday afternoon, Domino’s had created a Twitter account, @dpzinfo, to address the comments, and it had presented its chief executive in a video on YouTube by evening.

“It elevated to a point where just responding isn’t good enough,” Mr. McIntyre said.