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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 45291 times)
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« Reply #4500 on: Jul 9th, 2011, 08:36am »

New York Times

July 8, 2011
A $22 Billion Question for India: What to Do With a Treasure?
By VIKAS BAJAJ

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India — What should India, rising but still plagued by poverty, do with a newly discovered treasure of gold coins, statues and jewels in the vault of a Hindu temple, valued at some $22 billion?

Suggestions are pouring in from across the country and the world. Some say it should be used to establish universities and colleges. The man who brought the court case that resulted in the unveiling wants it handed over to the Kerala state government. Others want a subway system.

But here in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala formerly known as Trivandrum, many people — including the state’s top elected official, Hindus and the royal family that once ruled this part of India and still oversees the temple — argue that the treasure should remain, largely untouched, at the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple where it has been housed for centuries.

Their attitude partly reflects a suspicion that public officials entrusted with large sums of money will pocket much of it and mismanage the rest. Recent scandals, including one involving telecom licenses that cost the government an estimated $40 billion, have reinforced that cynicism.

(That scandal has already sent one former minister to jail; on Thursday, another former telecom minister, Dayanidhi Maran, offered to quit the national cabinet in light of allegations that he used his position to benefit companies owned by his family.)

Unlike in much of India, where royal families have used their kingdoms’ assets to build luxuriant palaces, here the royal family has had a reputation for living modestly and for its devotion to the Hindu god Vishnu, known here as Padmanabhaswamy.

“They should just measure its value,” said Krishna Kumar, a coconut oil producer who came to pray at the temple this week. “And then they should leave it here. The royal family will protect it.”

Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s chief minister, echoed that sentiment. Even though his idyllic coastal state has a debt of $16 billion and wants to build a subway system in its largest metropolitan area of Kochi, he said the state would not seek to seize the treasure. Rather, the state is digging into its own pockets to secure the temple with dozens of police and commando officers and is planning to install a high-tech surveillance system.

“This wealth belongs to the temple,” Mr. Chandy said. “Sri Padmanabhaswamy is a symbol of the Kerala culture. The government will not agree with the view that this belongs to the state.”

Political analysts say his position will serve him in good stead with Hindus, who make up a little more than half of Kerala’s population. Mr. Chandy is Christian and led the Congress Party and its coalition partners to a narrow victory in state elections recently.

India’s Supreme Court will ultimately decide who should control the temple’s wealth, which an archeological expert and the royal family say is probably worth less than the $22 billion estimate but is still likely to be monumental.

On Friday, the court put off the opening of the last of six vaults under the temple and ordered the state government and royal family to come up with a plan to secure the treasure. Previous attempts to open the vault have been unsuccessful because the entrance is sealed with a thick steel door and granite pillars, said Shashi Bhushan, the archeologist who is also an informal adviser to the royal family. A previous king failed in an effort to enter that vault in 1931.

Local legend has it that the vault is filled with snakes, but Mr. Bhushan, who wrote a 120-page history of the temple for the Supreme Court, dismisses those tales as hearsay. He said the court-appointed committee opening the vaults was searching for blacksmiths who may be familiar with ancient metallurgical methods to assist them.

Mr. Bhushan said most of the temple’s assets were deposited by the royal family and came from the pepper that the Travancore kingdom used to sell to Europeans and others. In times of economic stress, the assets served as a “lender of last resort” to the royals and the debts were later repaid, according to detailed records written on palm leaves, said K. Jaya Kumar, a Kerala government official who is a member of the committee.

The first structures in the temple grounds were built in the 800s, though much of the temple that exists today was built in the 1700s. The main sanctuary is a dimly lighted room with a statue of Vishnu lying on Sheshnag, the multiheaded king of snakes.

The current leader of the royal family, Sri Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, has stayed away from the public debate about what should be done with the treasure. But in an interview at his modest home, he seemed to suggest that it should be preserved for future generations.

Wearing a white dhoti, or wrapped pantaloon, and a faded striped shirt, the 90-year-old king looked less like the man sitting on a $22 billion windfall and more like a retired scholar. He has not seen the treasure, he said, but he acknowledged that he had long known that the vaults contained gold and other valuables.

Mr. Varma, who said he goes to the temple every morning to pray, declined to speak about the case because the court has ordered those involved not to. But asked if he had a message to convey to the world, he suggested that people be more patient and spend more time comprehending the world.

“You can gobble up the thing,” he said, “or you can try to understand it.”

The man who brought the case is a lawyer and former intelligence officer, T. P. Sundara Rajan, who is a devotee of the temple. He contends that the royal family has mismanaged temple assets and protected them poorly. He declined to be interviewed, citing the court order.

One Kerala politician, a former minister of education and culture, said the large size of the temple’s assets proved that the royal family had done a good job preserving them. But he suggested that leaving aside the items that may have religious or archeological significance, the treasure could be used to help better society by funding education — a traditional activity of religious institutions.

“Teaching the new generation is the most important responsibility of society,” said the former minister, M. A. Baby. “Along with the church, there should be the church school.”


http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/09/world/asia/09temple.html?_r=1&ref=world

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« Reply #4501 on: Jul 9th, 2011, 08:38am »

Telegraph

World's steepest roller-coaster opens in Japan

Watch Japan's Takabisha roller-coaster test run of the world's steepest roller-coaster, with a 141ft drop.

5:30PM BST 08 Jul 2011

The Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park has unveiled its 14th Guinness world record-breaking ride – the Takabisha roller-coaster.

Nestled at the foot of Mount Fuji, the new track features a 141ft single vertical fall at 121 degrees, making it the steepest roller-coaster drop in the world.

Costing three billion yen (£23 million) to build, the Takabisha steals the title from Mumbo Jumbo in Yorkshire, which features a 98ft drop at 112 degrees.

The Takabisha, which means "highflying car" runs over 0.6 miles of track and offers panoramic views of Mount Fuji for park-goers to appreciate in the 112 second hair-raising ride.

The attraction will fully open to the public on July 16.

Video after the jump
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8626139/Worlds-steepest-roller-coaster-opens-in-Japan.html

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« Reply #4502 on: Jul 9th, 2011, 08:47am »

Wired Danger Room

Boo! Army Laser Cannon Won’t Be Ready Until 2017
By Noah Shachtman
July 8, 2011 | 7:00 am
Categories: Lasers and Ray Guns


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Photo: U.S. Army


Late last month, officials from the Army and from Boeing presented to the press what appeared to be a working version of a mobile laser cannon. Parked in front of an American flag was an eight-wheel, 19-ton heavy truck. Affixed to the top of that truck was a laser-beam controller, used to aim and fire lethal rays of coherent light.

There was only one thing missing from this $38 million High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator: the laser itself.

The actual ray gun is being built under an entirely separate Army program — one that won’t be complete for another five years. Integrating the truck and the laser could take another year or two on top of that. In other words, don’t expect a working laser cannon until at least 2017.

The Pentagon devotes about $550 million annually to a mind-bending myriad of research-and-development projects, all designed make lasers and other so-called “directed energy weapons” a reality. Some programs are for lasers tucked into bombers, like Darpa’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System. Some are for ships. Others are for trucks.

But they all have a common denominator: the blasters are still far from combat-ready. At this rate, even the interminable Afghanistan war could well be over before America has any semblance of a ray gun arsenal.

For decades, military scientists promised that lasers were the weapons of tomorrow, just around the corner. But the vats of toxic chemicals used to power the lasers made them all but useless in a real-life war. So the Pentagon shifted its efforts about five years ago, to solid-state, electric-powered lasers, which would be easier to carry into combat.

In 2009, one of those lasers hit what’s believed to be battlefield strength, firing pulses of about 100 kilowatts. That’s like 1,000 light bulbs, shining on exactly the same spot and in the same wavelength.

It was an impressive laboratory feat. It wasn’t something you could to take Afghanistan, however. Nor was there a vehicle that could carry the weapon to war.

The laser was big and fragile, and required giant cooling units and generators to keep it blasting. So the Army started last year a Robust Electric Laser Initiative, or RELI, to squeeze that laser into something that could fit on a truck — and keep its cool and its power in combat.

The idea is to build a set of rugged modules that can convert 30 percent of their electric power into laser power. Chain four of these 25-kW modules together, and you should have the heart of a working laser weapon. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics all have introductory design contracts, worth $42 million all told. The final RELI modules are supposed to be done by 2016 or so.

Hauling those laser modules, the Army hopes, is a truck an awful lot like the one they showed off last month. On top is a beam-control system. It not only lets the soldier in the truck’s front cab operate the laser, explains Army program manager Terry Bauer, “it also takes light, conditions it, focuses and aims the light at whatever you’re shooting at.”

“Plus, it’ll take input from another sensor, telling you where to look for what you want to destroy,” he says

The High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator, or HEL TD, truck will now roll out to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It’ll plug into a series of outside lasers there for testing. The first won’t be much stronger than a light bulb. Eventually, the Army will connect that 100-kW laboratory laser to the truck, and hopefully start zapping all kinds of munitions that today threaten American troops. Then it’ll wait for those RELI modules to get done.

By 2018 or so, the Army hopes to be ready for a “decision point” (.pdf) about the laser, and whether it has an “Army application,” or not.

Meanwhile, Darpa and the Air Force have their own electric-laser-weapon plans. The Pentagon’s mad science agency recently gave General Atomics a $40 million contract for what they hope is the final phase of the decade-long, $120 million effort to build a pair of laser modules that could generate 150 kW of laser power. Unlike the Army’s laser, this one pumps out a “continuous wave” (.pdf) of coherent light.

Weighing about 1,650 pounds combined, the modules would make the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System about “10 times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power,” Darpa promises. Testing at White Sands could begin by late 2012, (.pdf) according to an agency memo, where HELLADS will begin “demonstrating lethality against artillery, rockets and missiles at tactically significant ranges.”

But HELLADS isn’t supposed to stay on the ground. It’s meant to be put into an aircraft — specifically, into the forward bomb bay of a B-1B bomber. The Air Force is busy, prepping the plane for its blaster. Exactly how long this Electric Laser on Large Aircraft program will take, and how much it will spend, isn’t entirely clear.

But since ray guns in the sky have all kinds of issues — like turbulence, and that nasty boundary layer effect around an aircraft’s wing — that a ground laser would never encounter, it’s a fair bet that America’s laser-blasting bomber won’t be ready much sooner than its laser-blasting truck.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/07/boo-no-laser-cannon/

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« Reply #4503 on: Jul 9th, 2011, 08:48am »

Hi Swamprat! Hope you are okay.
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« Reply #4504 on: Jul 9th, 2011, 08:52am »

Hollywood Reporter

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes': Will Andy Serkis Score Acting Nom Without Appearing on Screen?

The actor's portrayal of the ape Caesar will put the spotlight on performance capture.

12:33 AM 7/9/2011
by Carolyn Giardina


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The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with its photoreal visual effects, is sure to be a major factor in this year's visual effects Oscar race. The bigger awards question surrounding the film, which 20th Century Fox will release Aug. 5, is whether Andy Serkis, the actor who portrays the ape Caesar, will be considered a contender for an acting nomination.

That honor eluded him ten years ago when he played the tragic creature Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. That role, however, did launch an ongoing Hollywood debate about how much an actor contributes to CG characters who are created through performance capture.

WETA Digital, the Wellington, N.Z.-based VFX company behind both Rings and Apes, has always maintained that the actor drives the performance of its CG creations. "Performance capture (is) really (designed) to give you the actors' moment--the spontaneity, the thought, the insight that really comes from an actor who really truly understands his role," says WETA's four-time Oscar winning VFX supervisor Joe Letteri.

Over the years, understanding of the technique has grown and many filmmakers have spoken out on that position, including James Cameron, who used performance capture and worked with WETA to realize Avatar.

To bolster its position, on Thursday, WETA held a preview and discussion about Apes at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena at which director Rupert Wyatt treated the audience to some exclusive clips of his upcoming film. He and Letteri also discussed the innovative visual effects. And Serkis -- who was in the U.K. but participated in the discussion via Skype -- offered the actor's perspective.

Wyatt -- who calls Serkis the "Charlie Chaplin of our time" -- explained that his film is essentially a reboot, an original story, that takes place before the events depicted in 1968's The Planet of the Apes. "We are working our way toward the original film ... but our film is set in 2011," he said.

The first clip he introduced showed Caesar's' agitated mother, who, echoing the original film, is referred to as "bright eyes." She has been pulled from the jungle to be used in a research project looking for a cure for Alzheimer's.

In the second clip, it is revealed that her aggression was an effort to protect her baby, which scientist Will Rodman, played by James Franco, takes home to nurture. The audience then saw a growing Caesar, who gets aggressive to protect Will's father, portrayed by John Lithgow, who is showing signs of Alzheimer's himself.

Wyatt next introduced a clip where Caesar is separated from his human family and placed in an oppressive facility with other apes.

Another sequence showed how Caesar continues to develop in his new environment. "He uses his intelligence and his wits to rise through the ranks and become the alpha," Wyatt explained. "He turns the tables not only on them, but also on us."

In those scenes, Serkis' performance shows a range of emotions -- joy, love, vulnerability, aggression and terror. Explained Serkis, "This is an ape who has been brought up with human beings. He believes he is loved; he is an innocent. Then he has a moment of self-awareness when he realizes he is a freak and then is thrown into a hard-core prison and then leads a revolution."

There were no real apes used in making Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The director relied completely on the skills of WETA -- whose work has earned Oscars for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong and Avatar -- to create the photoreal cast that "has a soul when you look into their eyes."

To get that look, the filmmakers did extensive research, which included time spent at the Wellington Zoo. Letteri showed video of apes, including one that Wyatt said was "Andy's inspiration for Caesar."

"There's the look, the physicality -- bones, muscle, tissue, fur," Letteri said. "In a way, that is just the starting point, what we are really after is the performance."

For Apes, the performance capture method used was an extension of WETA's techniques that were employed in Avatar. For Cameron's film -- where the avatars were supposed to be 10 ft. tall -- the actors worked on a motion capture stage, the area where the performance capture takes place, which is covered by motion capture cameras.

Letteri explained that since the apes were human in size, "it made sense to put them in the scene." So Serkis performed on the regular live-action sets with the other actors, including Franco, Lithgow and Freida Pinto.

"It's no different than live action acting," Serkis added. "And I never considered (performance capture) anything else but live action acting. You are reacting and acting with other people."


http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/rise-planet-apes-will-andy-209370

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« Reply #4505 on: Jul 9th, 2011, 08:59am »

Reuters

Exclusive: WikiLeaks loses Icelandic financial lifeline

By Maria Aspan

NEW YORK | Fri Jul 8, 2011 5:18pm EDT

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has lost a financial lifeline. Since December, bans by the world's major credit card networks, it has been difficult for supporters of the controversial whistleblower to send him donations. But this week, WikiLeaks gained a brief respite with the unwitting help of an Icelandic bank.

The window was quickly closed.

On Thursday, WikiLeaks payments provider DataCell said it could start processing donations to Assange's group again, circumventing a months-long ban by Visa and MasterCard.

An Icelandic bank called Valitor had agreed to accept payments processed by DataCell, but DataCell did not tell Valitor that those payments would include donations to WikiLeaks, the bank told Reuters on Friday.

"Valitor was not informed that DataCell would be conducting these activities when their business agreement was made," spokeswoman Jonina Ingvadottir told Reuters in an emailed statement on Friday.

She cited Visa and MasterCard's prohibition on the "service such as DataCell is offering WikiLeaks."

The world's two largest credit card processing networks were among several companies to cut off services to WikiLeaks late last year after the whistleblower organization made public a massive trove of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

One person familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier on Friday that Valitor had blocked the Visa and MasterCard WikiLeaks donations and terminated its contract with DataCell.

Fewer than 100 donations were processed before Valitor blocked the payments, the person said.

Other media outlets this week reported that it was Visa Europe that discontinued the WikiLeaks donations, but DataCell told Reuters that Valitor discontinued all donations to WikiLeaks it had been accepting.

The failed Valitor partnership is the latest blow to Assange, who has struggled to gain funding since the major payments networks stopped processing payments to WikiLeaks.

The Internet vigilante group Anonymous temporarily shut down the public websites of both Visa and MasterCard in December after the companies began their embargo.

Visa and MasterCard send money from bank to bank around the world, on behalf of consumers, companies, governments and other organizations. But those organizations, including WikiLeaks and its processing partner, need bank partners.

DataCell founder Olaf Sigurvinsson confirmed that Valitor had terminated the contract with his company this week. He told Reuters that when he signed the contract with Valitor, "it was absolutely clear that we were going to continue our proposal to collect donations," including to WikiLeaks.

He said DataCell has filed a complaint over Valitor's actions to the financial supervisor in Iceland, and that it plans to file one to the European Union.

Visa Europe spokeswoman Amanda Kamin said in an email on Friday that "an acquirer briefly accepted payments on a merchant site linked to WikiLeaks." She said as soon as this came to Visa's attention, action was taken. Kamin did not elaborate further.

MasterCard said it has not changed its position on the WikiLeaks donation embargo.

(Reporting by Maria Aspan; editing by Matthew Lewis and Tim Dobbyn)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/08/us-wikileaks-payments-idUSTRE7675XL20110708

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« Reply #4506 on: Jul 10th, 2011, 07:54am »

New York Times

Boat Sinks on Russia's Volga, 61 Missing

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: July 10, 2011 at 8:38 AM ET

MOSCOW (AP) — A passenger boat sank on the Volga River in Russia Sunday, killing at least one person and leaving 61 missing, officials said.

Regional emergencies ministry spokesman Marat Rakhmatullin said the Bulgaria sank in the middle of the river in the Tatarstan region, about 450 miles (750 kilometers) east of Moscow..

He said 173 passengers and crew were onboard when the boat went down. Most of the passengers were picked up by a passing ship.

The Bulgaria belongs to a local tourism company and went from the town of Bulgar to the regional capital, Kazan.

The company's website says the double-decker, Czech Republic-made boat is designed for 140 passengers.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/07/10/world/europe/AP-EU-Russia-Boat-Sinks.html?_r=1&hp

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« Reply #4507 on: Jul 10th, 2011, 07:59am »

Washington Post

7.0 aftershock hits off Japan coast; no damage reported

By Chico Harlan
Published: July 9

TOKYO — Northeastern Japan was jolted Sunday morning by a 7.0 magnitude aftershock, the largest to hit here in more than three months, triggering a tsunami warning for coastal areas trying to recover from the March 11 mega-disaster.

Initial reports indicated no damage as a result of this tremor, but residents — including workers at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant — were urged to evacuate. Tsunami waves between 10 and 20 centimeters high were reported in Miyagi and Iwate Prefecture.

The earthquake struck at 9:57 a.m., centered some 131 miles off the east coast of Sendai.

A tsunami warning indicated the possibility of waves as high as 50 centimeters. But at the Sendai airport, flights took off without disruption, television station NHK reported. Within an hour of the quake, work resumed at the Fukushima nuclear plant. None of the nuclear plants along Japan’s northeastern coast, including Daiichi, reported problems as a result of the tremor.

Japan has been bracing for major aftershocks since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake March 11 triggered a powerful tsunami, creating one of the largest disasters in this country’s history. The catastrophe left tens of thousands dead or missing, and scores more without homes or businesses. It also prompted the most serious nuclear crisis in a quarter century at the Fukushima plant, where three reactors sustained meltdowns.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/japan-earthquake-70-aftershock-hits-off-coast-no-damage-reported/2011/07/09/gIQAIZwH6H_story.html

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« Reply #4508 on: Jul 10th, 2011, 08:03am »

LA Times

Kadafi again threatens to attack Europe with suicide bombers

Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi says 'hundreds of Libyans will martyr in Europe' in a defiant speech. He made a similar threat in a message on July 1.

By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times
July 10, 2011
Reporting from Benghazi, Libya

For the second time in a week, Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi has threatened to dispatch hundreds of Libyan suicide bombers to attack targets in Europe in retaliation for NATO strikes against his regime.

"Hundreds of Libyans will martyr in Europe," Kadafi said late Friday in a defiant speech before thousands of Libyans in Tripoli's Green Square. "I told you it is eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth."

The latest threats came as pro-government forces launched a counterattack on rebels attempting to push toward Tripoli, the capital, from their enclave in the port city of Misurata, 125 miles to the east. A spokesman in the eastern rebel bastion of Benghazi said that at least seven rebel fighters were killed and 17 wounded in the fighting late Friday.

On Saturday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said its aircraft carried out a "precision strike" that destroyed a government missile battery hidden in a group of farm buildings outside Misurata. The missile battery had been "used to launch indiscriminate attacks on Libyan civilians, including the port and city of Misurata," a NATO statement said.

"By using civilian sites for military purposes, the Kadafi regime has once again shown complete disregard for the welfare of Libyan civilians," said Canadian air force Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's Libya campaign.

Kadafi first threatened to attack Europe in a recorded message played at a rally July 1 in Tripoli. He warned Europeans that Libyan attackers would "target your homes, offices and families, which would become legitimate targets."

Kadafi has portrayed the NATO mission as an illegal invasion of a Muslim nation by the West.

In Benghazi, a spokesman for the rebel Transitional National Council dismissed Kadafi's threats.

"He's just bragging," spokesman Mohammed Kesh said. "If he could do it, he would have done it already without talking about it."

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-libya-fighting-20110710,0,1947798.story

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« Reply #4509 on: Jul 10th, 2011, 08:11am »

UPI.com


Don't try this at home -- or elsewhere!

Published: July 10, 2011 at 3:00 AM
By ANTHONY HALL
United Press International

A Michigan man filed a five-page, hand-written lawsuit in court charging Gov. Rick Snyder with cruel and unusual punishment because he is not allowed pornography in jail.

"Such living conditions have been used as a method of 'psychological warfare' against prisoners, in order to both destroy the morale of inmates and break the spirit of individuals," The Detroit News reported Kyle Richards wrote in his complaint.

Favorite bank robbery of all time:

In Atlanta this week, a man walked up to a teller in a Wells Fargo branch office, handed her a note demanding money and explaining that he had a gun.

Then, with no explanation and with no money, the thief left the bank empty-handed -- just walked away, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

That would be an all-time great holdup -- not the one most easy to explain.

Favorite would-be arrest of all time:

A woman in South Carolina called 911 and told the dispatcher to send the police -- so they could take her to jail. Her crime, she explained, was slapping her husband because he refused to have sex with her.

Caught on the 911 phone taping system, the woman said, "Basically I slapped him this morning because he wouldn't have sex with me, and he hasn't had sex with me in a couple of months, so I slapped him across the face and he wants me to go to jail."

WMBF-TV, Myrtle Beach, reported the police did not say if they arrested the woman or not.

A lap dance would have been cheaper:

Four exotic dancers and two female bartenders in Daytona Beach, Fla., this week were awarded $195,000 in federal court to compensate them for illegal strip searches conducted during a 2009 drug raid at a gentlemen's club.

The women who endured the improper searches will each get $5,000, while their lawyers are the big winners, banking $165,000, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Besides using a search warrant the judge ruled was illegal, the strip searches took place in front of 20 male police officers or, as it happens, 91 percent of the city of Daytona Beach Shores public safety officers, given the city's Web site says there are 22 public safety officers on the police force.

http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2011/07/10/Dont-try-this-at-home-or-elsewhere/UPI-45961310281200/print/#ixzz1RhvfsWLA

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« Reply #4510 on: Jul 10th, 2011, 08:25am »

Nerdbastards

George Lucas Shuts Down Fan’s ‘Star Wars’ Movie Marathon
07-09-11 • Film, WTF?
Posted by Luke Gallagher

Just when you needed a new reason to hate George Lucas… Actually, you didn’t need a new reason, but he’s given one to you just the same. Or more specifically, to the Star Wars fanboys in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.

A planned 13-hour marathon of all six Star Wars films at a bar called The Wicked Monk was scuttled this week when screening organizers were given a cease-and-desist order by Lucasfilm lawyers. The letter also slammed organizers for unauthorized use of Star Wars logos and artwork in their promotions. Needless to say, the fans were caught a bit off guard.

“God forbid a few people in Brooklyn want to get together and watch the movies — that we paid for!” said organizer Mike DeVito in an article in The Brooklyn Paper. “I think [Lucas] has become worse than [Darth Vader]. Darth Vader is at least redeemable.”

DeVito and his co-organizer Bianca Sunshine have spent two months promoting the event, and say that they weren’t look to make a profit by screening the sci-fi saga. In fact, admission was free and the only cost to people attending were the Star Wars themed drinks and the $1 raffle tickets. Interestingly, Sunshine puts on a regular screening at The Wicked Monk highlighting cult classics like The Warriors, The Outsiders, Clockwork Orange and Kill Bill, and has never before been hit by legal paperwork for her efforts.

So it begs the question, what made Lucas and his lawyers bring the hammer down on these NYC Star Warriors? Is it because he’s got the 3-D Star Wars hitting theatres next year? Blu-Rays in the fall? Or is he just becoming progressively more Vaderish as he gets older? Whatever the reason, it seems that Lucas has lost at least one fan for life.

“I always tried to be the one voice saying ‘oh, he’s not that bad’,” DeVito said. “I’ve always had such blind loyalty. That’s over.”

And remember George, no one holds a grudge like Brooklyn


http://nerdbastards.com/

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« Reply #4511 on: Jul 11th, 2011, 07:46am »

New York Times

July 10, 2011
Economy Faces a Jolt as Benefit Checks Run Out
By MOTOKO RICH

An extraordinary amount of personal income is coming directly from the government.

Close to $2 of every $10 that went into Americans’ wallets last year were payments like jobless benefits, food stamps, Social Security and disability, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics. In states hit hard by the downturn, like Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Ohio, residents derived even more of their income from the government.

By the end of this year, however, many of those dollars are going to disappear, with the expiration of extended benefits intended to help people cope with the lingering effects of the recession. Moody’s Analytics estimates $37 billion will be drained from the nation’s pocketbooks this year.

In terms of economic impact, that is slightly less than the spending cuts Congress enacted to keep the government financed through September, averting a shutdown.

Unless hiring picks up sharply to compensate, economists fear that the lost income will further crimp consumer spending and act as a drag on a recovery that is still quite fragile. Among the other supports that are slipping away are federal aid to the states, the Federal Reserve’s program to pump money into the economy and the payroll tax cut, scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

“If we don’t get more job growth and gains in wages and salaries, then consumers just aren’t going to have the firepower to spend, and the economy is going to weaken,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, a macroeconomic consulting firm.

Job growth has remained elusive. There are 4.6 unemployed workers for every opening, according to the Labor Department, and Friday’s unemployment report showed that employers added an anemic 18,000 jobs in June.

In Arizona, where there are 10 job seekers for every opening, 45,000 people could lose benefits by the end of the year, according to estimates from the state Department of Economic Security. Yet employers in the state have added just 4,000 jobs over the last 12 months.

Some other states will also feel a disproportionate loss of income unless hiring revives. In Florida, where nearly 476,000 people are collecting unemployment benefits, employers have added only 11,200 jobs in the last year. In Michigan, employers have added about 40,000 jobs since May 2010, but about 267,000 people are claiming jobless benefits.

Throughout the recession and its aftermath, government benefits have helped keep money in people’s wallets and, in turn, circulating among businesses. Total government payments rose to $2.3 trillion in 2010, from $1.7 trillion in 2007, an increase of about 35 percent.

While some of that growth was in Social Security and disability benefits as the population aged, the majority resulted from payments to people continuing to suffer from the recession, said Mr. Zandi. Unemployment benefits, including emergency and extended benefits, are more than three times their prerecession level, he said. The nearly 20 percent of personal income now provided by the government is close to a record high.

Approved by Congress last December, the final extension of jobless benefits — for a maximum of 99 weeks for each unemployed person — is scheduled to conclude at the end of this year. A handful of states, like Wisconsin and Arizona, have already cut off weeks 80 through 99 for their residents. Meanwhile, more of the long-term unemployed are bumping up against the 99-week limit.

Consumers account for an estimated 60 to 70 percent of the country’s economic activity, but two years into the official recovery, businesses are still complaining that people simply are not spending enough.

“Regardless of why people have less money to spend, it affects all retailers in all industries,” said Michael Siemienas, spokesman for SuperValu, which operates grocery chains including Cub Foods, Shop ’n Save and Save-A-Lot. Mr. Siemienas said that the number of SuperValu’s customers using electronic benefit transfers to pay bills had grown over the last year.

Because benefit payments tend to be spent right away to cover basic needs like food and rent, they provide a direct boost to consumer spending. In a study for the Labor Department, Wayne Vroman, an economist at the Urban Institute, estimated that every $1 paid in jobless benefits generated as much as $2 in the economy.

For many of the nearly 7.5 million people collecting unemployment benefits, those payments are keeping them afloat. Laura Metz, 42, was laid off from a clerical job paying $15.30 an hour at a home health care provider near her home in Commerce, Mich., nearly 15 months ago. She has been collecting $362 a week in unemployment insurance and about $50 a month in food stamps.

That covers the basics. But Ms. Metz stopped making her mortgage payments last year on the modest home she shares with her 19-year-old son. A program that allowed her to make a lower monthly payment has expired, and she is waiting to see if the lender will modify her loan. She can no longer make her student loan payments for her bachelor’s degree or master’s in business administration, and she has downgraded her Internet and cable service and cut back on car trips and snacks.

Ms. Metz, who has been applying for administrative jobs, has been shocked at the dearth of opportunities. A decade ago, when she applied for clerical jobs, “as soon as I walked up, there was a sign saying ‘We’re hiring,’ but it’s not like that now,” she said. “It’s really, really difficult.”

Businesses that rely heavily on low-income shoppers worry that their customers will have little to spend. Najib Atisha, who co-owns two small grocery stores in Detroit, said people receiving government assistance made up about a third of his customers downtown and as much as 60 percent at his store on the west side of the city.

“Of course, we’re hoping that things will turn around, but it’s always easier to lose jobs than it is to gain jobs,” Mr. Atisha said. “I think it’s going to take twice as long to rebound as it took to get where we are now.”

Some business groups argue that extending unemployment benefits has had deleterious effects on employers and potential workers.

“It’s having a chilling effect on hiring,” said Wendy Block, director of health policy and human resources at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “At one point, our unemployment taxes were just a blip on the balance sheet, but when you’re talking over $500 a head, this is significant.” Last year, Michigan spent $6.2 billion on jobless benefits, according to the National Employment Law Center.

Some economic studies show that people who collect unemployment benefits are less likely to look for or accept work until their benefits are close to running out.

“Unemployment insurance extends the typical amount of time that people will spend off the job and not looking for work,” said Chris Edwards, an economist at the Cato Institute, a libertarian organization.

In Michigan, Ms. Metz said that if all else failed, she would have to move in with her parents, who live on a fixed income. But she is determined to find work before her benefits run out and plans to expand her search to include light industrial manufacturing. “It’s getting close to the end,” she said. “And I got to do what I got to do.”


http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/11/business/economy/as-government-aid-fades-so-may-the-recovery.html?_r=1&ref=us

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« Reply #4512 on: Jul 11th, 2011, 07:49am »

Washington Post

In Mexico, forests fall prey to crime mafias

By Anne-Marie O’Connor and William Booth
Published: July 6

CHERAN, Mexico — When outlaw loggers with automatic weapons invaded the mountains and cut down the ancient woods — and once again the government failed to stop them — this town said enough.

Now every stranger entering Cheran is stopped at barricades made of logs, guarded by locals who cover their faces in masks. In the surrounding forest, a homegrown militia toting rifles creeps through the underbrush, signaling the way forward with birdcalls, on daily patrols to protect the timber.

The fight is about trees. But it is part of a greater struggle in Mexico, to beat back rapacious criminal organizations that keep extending their reach, from drug smuggling to migrant kidnapping, from gasoline rustling to software piracy — and now timber theft. In Cheran, this struggle is being waged by civilians impatient with the government’s inaction or, they charge, its complicity.

Mexican officials say they assume that organized crime is participating in the timber thefts here in the western mountains of Michoacan state, but they have made only two minor arrests.

“The bad men come and we are unprotected,” a town leader said. “Without trees there is no water, the soil erodes and no one can live from the land. So we decided to protect ourselves.”

Locals say the bandit woodcutters were guarded by gunmen carrying military-style weapons who acted like they owned the place. In two years, the rogue loggers cut down thousands of acres of the ancestral old-growth forest, said a former mayor. They shot the village activists who opposed them. They kidnapped other men from this town of Purepechas, indigenous people who still speak a pre-Columbian language.

Mexico has faced illegal logging for years, but now security experts say that Mexican cartels appear to be entering into the illicit trade, either by orchestrating the logging or serving as armed muscle and then taking their cut.

In April, as the gangs began to fell the massive tropical pines that surround the town’s water sources and springs, citizens confronted the outsiders, seizing 10 logging trucks piled high with timber. A gunman shot one of the townspeople in the head. The citizens burned the gangs’ trucks and detained five drivers, who were later released by state police.

“They stopped because we stopped them,” said Victor Manuel Medina, a craftsman who was manning one of the checkpoints coming into town, where at night bonfires light up dozens of street corners.

Taking up arms

In June, the people of Cheran sent the state and municipal police packing, shuttered city hall, and replaced the mayor with a communal council that authorized a local militia, which now carries out armed patrols.

Now Cheran looks like the headquarters of a resistance movement, complete with banners painted with clenched fists, slogans demanding peace and justice, and pickup trucks filled with campesinos wearing camouflage jackets and carrying clubs.

State police have set up their own camp a few miles from town, but are not allowed to enter Cheran.

But the confrontation is far from over.

“A week ago someone came and threw pamphlets around saying they would burn the houses, the churches and the children, the old people. They signed it ‘father of the devil, Los Zetas,’ and no one saw who brought them,” said a young man in a mask who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

It is common in Mexico for one mafia to blame another by posting false messages.

“We hear they are the Zetas. We hear they are La Familia. No one knows. They want to intimidate us,” said Trinidad Estrada, a high school coach here, speaking of two rival cartels.

In an emotional meeting with some of his harshest critics, President Felipe Calderon last month was confronted by a representative from Cheran who asked the government to stop the logging and arrest those responsible. Calderon acknowledged the need “to strengthen, even more, the institutions.’’

“The community of Cheran is organizing to protect their resources and prevent the illegal robbery of their wood,” said Enrique Duran of the National Forestry Commission's reforestation program. “We are making efforts to establish security in the zone and eradicate the organized crime or other robbers of the lumber.”

Gunmen still lurk in the mountains. The burned body of a Cheran resident was dumped on his farm a week ago.

The Cheran militia took two reporters to a once crystal-clear town spring that is surrounded by hundreds of splintered trunks of century-old trees. They were illegally felled in April by the armed loggers, who hacked a road through a once-peaceful forest.

Armando Hernandez, 52, a father of three, was shot dead nearby on April 22, while at work at a reforestation plantation where his co-worker disappeared in February.

“It was an ambush,” said his widow, Alisa Campos Aguilar. “They were waiting for him, well-armed. The government has done nothing.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-mexico-forests-fall-prey-to-crime-mafias/2011/07/03/gIQAUApL0H_story.html

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« Reply #4513 on: Jul 11th, 2011, 07:53am »

Wired Threat Level

How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History
By Kim Zetter
July 11, 2011 | 7:00 am
Categories: Stuxnet

It was January 2010, and investigators with the International Atomic Energy Agency had just completed an inspection at the uranium enrichment plant outside Natanz in central Iran, when they realized that something was off within the cascade rooms where thousands of centrifuges were enriching uranium.

Natanz technicians in white lab coats, gloves and blue booties were scurrying in and out of the “clean” cascade rooms, hauling out unwieldy centrifuges one by one, each sheathed in shiny silver cylindrical casings.

Any time workers at the plant decommissioned damaged or otherwise unusable centrifuges, they were required to line them up for IAEA inspection to verify that no radioactive material was being smuggled out in the devices before they were removed. The technicians had been doing so now for more than a month.

Normally Iran replaced up to 10 percent of its centrifuges a year, due to material defects and other issues. With about 8,700 centrifuges installed at Natanz at the time, it would have been normal to decommission about 800 over the course of the year.

But when the IAEA later reviewed footage from surveillance cameras installed outside the cascade rooms to monitor Iran’s enrichment program, they were stunned as they counted the numbers. The workers had been replacing the units at an incredible rate — later estimates would indicate between 1,000 and 2,000 centrifuges were swapped out over a few months.

The question was, why?

Iran wasn’t required to disclose the reason for replacing the centrifuges and, officially, the inspectors had no right to ask. Their mandate was to monitor what happened to nuclear material at the plant, not keep track of equipment failures. But it was clear that something had damaged the centrifuges.

What the inspectors didn’t know was that the answer they were seeking was hidden all around them, buried in the disk space and memory of Natanz’s computers. Months earlier, in June 2009, someone had silently unleashed a sophisticated and destructive digital worm that had been slithering its way through computers in Iran with just one aim — to sabotage the country’s uranium enrichment program and prevent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from building a nuclear weapon.

But it would be nearly a year before the inspectors would learn of this. The answer would come only after dozens of computer security researchers around the world would spend months deconstructing what would come to be known as the most complex malware ever written — a piece of software that would ultimately make history as the world’s first real cyberweapon.

more after the jump
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/07/how-digital-detectives-deciphered-stuxnet/all/1

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« Reply #4514 on: Jul 11th, 2011, 08:03am »

Space.com

Search Is On for Moon Around Asteroid Vesta
SPACE.com Staff
Date: 11 July 2011 Time: 06:00 AM ET

The debate over whether the giant asteroid Vesta has a moon could soon be decided.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft will go into orbit in mid-July, when it will take the best-ever photographs of the big rock. Those photographs will give scientists the best evidence yet for or against the existence of a moon around Vesta.

You might think of asteroids as isolated bodies tumbling alone through space, but it's entirely possible for these old "loners" to have companions.

Indeed, 19-mile-wide (31 kilometer) asteroid Ida, 90-mile-wide (145 km) Pulcova, 103-mile-wide (166 km) Kalliope, and 135-mile-wide (217 km) Eugenia each have a moon. And 175-mile-wide (282 km) Sylvia has two moons. Measuring 330 miles (531 km) across, Vesta is much larger than these other examples, so a "Vesta moon" is certainly plausible. [Photos of Asteroid Vesta: http://www.space.com/11540-photos-asteroid-vesta-nasa-dawn.html]

Where do such moons come from?

The Dawn spacecraft's chief engineer Marc Rayman suggests one possible source of a moon around Vesta: "When another large body collides with an asteroid, the resulting debris is sprayed into orbit around the asteroid and can gradually collapse to form a moon," Rayman said in a statement.

Another possibility is a game of "gravitational pinball," such as when a moon formed elsewhere in the asteroid belt might, through complicated gravitational interactions with various bodies, end up captured by the gravity of one of them.

The Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes have looked for Vesta moons before, and so far seen nothing.

But Dawn is about to be in position for a closer look. This Saturday (July 9), just one week before Dawn goes into orbit around Vesta, the moon hunt will commence. [Video: Hubble Telescope Spies Vesta: http://www.space.com/9808-asteroid-turns-hubble-spies-vesta.html]

Dawn's cameras will begin taking images of the space surrounding the asteroid, looking for suspicious specks, as it approaches.

"If a moon is there, it will appear as a dot that moves around Vesta in successive images as opposed to remaining fixed, like background stars," says Dawn team member Mark Sykes. "We'll be able to use short exposures to detect moons as small as 27 meters [89 feet] in diameter. If our longer exposures aren't washed out by the glare of nearby Vesta, we'll be able to detect moons only a few meters in diameter."

more after the jump
http://www.space.com/12220-vesta-asteroid-moon-nasa-dawn-search.html

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