Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6630 on: May 5th, 2012, 08:43am »
New York Times
May 4, 2012 Officials: U.S. Drone Strike Kills 8 in Pakistan By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — An American drone fired a volley of missiles into a house close to the Afghan border on Saturday, killing eight suspected militants and indicating U.S. resolve to continue with the attacks despite renewed Pakistani opposition, officials said.
The strike in North Waziristan was the second American drone operation in Pakistan this week.
The attacks come amid American efforts to rebuild its relationship with Pakistan, which in November blocked the passage of U.S. and NATO war supplies to neighboring Afghanistan. The country's parliament has called for an end to the drone strikes, which many here regard as an unacceptable violation of sovereignty.
Up to eight missiles were fired at a house in the Dra Nishtar area of North Waziristan early Saturday, Pakistani intelligence officials said. They didn't give their names because they were not authorized to be named in the media.
Pakistan's foreign office issued a statement condemning the attack, saying it was a violation of sovereignty and international law. It did the same after the strike last Sunday, which was the first since lawmakers demanded they end. Previously, individual attacks rarely drew official complaint.
America is unwilling to stop the drone attacks, saying they have weakened al-Qaida and associated groups in Pakistan's tribal regions, large parts of which are not under the control of the Pakistani state. In the past, Pakistan's intelligence agency has cooperated with the attacks, but the government has not publicly acknowledged this.
U.S and Pakistani intelligence officials are discussing drone operations to see if they can continue in a fashion that is acceptable to Islamabad, American officials say. A central issue is the level of Pakistan involvement in deciding which militant factions are hit.
North Waziristan is a haven for Islamist militants from many parts of the world. Washington regards the region as a key command and control center for insurgents fighting U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan. The identities and affiliations of those killed Saturday were not immediately known.
Civilians have also been killed in the drone attacks, but the United States doesn't publicly investigate or apologize for any mistakes it makes. The frequency of the strikes has significantly dropped this year.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6631 on: May 5th, 2012, 08:47am »
Everyone Has Been Hacked. Now What? By Kim Zetter May 4, 2012 | 7:22 pm Categories: Breaches, Cybersecurity
The attackers chose their moment well.
On Apr. 7, 2011, five days before Microsoft patched a critical zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer that had been publicly disclosed three months earlier on a security mailing list, unknown attackers launched a spear-phishing attack against workers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
The lab, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, conducts classified and unclassified energy and national security work for the federal government.
The e-mail, purporting to come from the lab’s human resources department, went to about 530 workers, or 11 percent of the lab’s workforce.
The cleverly crafted missive included a link to a malicious webpage, where workers could get information about employee benefits. But instead of getting facts about a health plan or retirement fund, workers who visited the site using Internet Explorer got bit with malicious code that downloaded silently to their machines.
Although the lab detected the spear-phishing attack soon after it began, administrators weren’t quick enough to stop 57 workers from clicking on the malicious link. Luckily, only two employee machines were infected with the code. But that was enough for the intruders to get onto the lab’s network and begin siphoning data. Four days after the e-mails arrived, administrators spotted suspicious traffic leaving a server.
Only a few megabytes of stolen data got out, but other servers soon lit up with malicious activity. So administrators took the drastic step of severing all the lab’s computers from the internet while they investigated.
Oak Ridge had become the newest member of a club to which no one wants to belong – a nonexclusive society that includes Fortune 500 companies protecting invaluable intellectual property, law firms managing sensitive litigation and top security firms that everyone expected should have been shielded from such incursions. Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been the victim of an attack.
Last year, antivirus firm McAfee identified some 70 targets of an espionage hack dubbed Operation Shady RAT that hit defense contractors, government agencies and others in multiple countries. The intruders had source code, national secrets and legal contracts in their sights.
Source code and other intellectual property was also the target of hackers who breached Google and 33 other firms in 2010. In a separate attack, online spies siphoned secrets for the Pentagon’s $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project.
Then, last year, the myth of computer security was struck a fatal blow when intruders breached RSA Security, one of the world’s leading security companies that also hosts the annual RSA security conference, an august and massive confab for security vendors. The hackers stole data related to the company’s SecurID two-factor authentication systems, RSA’s flagship product that is used by millions of corporate and government workers to securely log into their computers.
Fortunately, the theft proved to be less effective for breaking into other systems than the intruders probably hoped, but the intrusion underscored the fact that even the keepers of the keys cannot keep attackers out.
Independent security researcher Dan Kaminsky says he’s glad the security bubble has finally burst and that people are realizing that no network is immune from attack. That, he says, means the security industry and its customers can finally face the uncomfortable fact that what they’ve been doing for years isn’t working.
“There’s been a deep conservatism around, ‘Do what everyone else is doing, whether or not it works.’ It’s not about surviving, it’s about claiming you did due diligence,” Kaminsky says. “That’s good if you’re trying to keep a job. It’s bad if you’re trying to solve a technical problem.
In reality, Kaminsky says, “No one knows how to make a secure network right now. There’s no obvious answer that we’re just not doing because we’re lazy.”
Simply installing firewalls and intrusion detection systems and keeping anti-virus signatures up to date won’t cut it anymore — especially since most companies never know they’ve been hit until someone outside the firm tells them.
“If someone walks up to you on the street and hits you with a lead pipe, you know you were hit in the head with a lead pipe,” Kaminsky says. “Computer security has none of that knowing you were hit in the head with a lead pipe.”
According to Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer for computer security firm Mandiant, which has helped Google and many other companies conduct forensics and clean up their networks after an attack, the average cyberespionage attack goes on for 416 days, well over a year, before a company discovers it’s been hacked. That’s actually an improvement over a few years ago, he says, when it was normal to find attackers had been in a network two or three years before being discovered.
Bejtlich credits the drop in time not to companies doing better internal monitoring, but to notifications by the FBI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Air Force Office of Special Investigation, who discover breaches through a range of tactics including hanging out in hacker forums and turning hackers into confidential informants, as well as other tactics they decline to discuss publicly. These government agencies then notify companies that they’ve been hacked before they know it themselves.
But even the FBI took a defeatist view of the situation recently when Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director of the FBI, told The Wall Street Journal on the eve of his retirement from the Bureau that intruders were winning the hacker wars, and network defenders were simply outgunned.
The current approaches to fending off hackers are “unsustainable,” Henry said, and computer criminals are too wily and skilled to be stopped.
So if hackers are everywhere and everyone has been hacked, what’s a company to do?
Kaminsky says the advantage of the new state of affairs is that it opens the window for innovation. “The status quo is unacceptable. What do we do now? How do we change things? There really is room for innovation in defensive security. It’s not just the hackers that get to have all the fun.”
Companies and researchers are exploring ideas for addressing the problem, but until new solutions are found for defending against attacks, Henry and other experts say that learning to live with the threat, rather than trying to eradicate it, is the new normal. Just detecting attacks and mitigating against them is the best that many companies can hope to do.
“I don’t think we can win the battle,” Henry told Wired.com. “I think it’s going to be a constant battle, and it’s something we’re going to be in for a long time…. We have to manage the way we assess the risk and we have to change the way we do business on the network. That’s going to be a fundamental change that we’ve got to make in order for people to be better secure.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6632 on: May 5th, 2012, 08:57am »
Army imposes curfew in Cairo district after clashes
By Patrick Werr and Marwa Awad Sat May 5, 2012 8:28am EDT
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's army imposed an overnight curfew around the defense ministry in Cairo on Friday after protesters clashed with troops there during demonstrations against the country's military rulers, leaving one soldier dead and 373 people wounded.
The crowd hurled projectiles and insults at the soldiers sent to defend the ministry after 11 people were killed in fighting there on Wednesday, and called for the overthrow of the head of the ruling army council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
The army fired back water cannon, then teargas, and riot police surged towards the crowd with batons. Scores of wounded protesters were taken away on motorcycles and dozens of soldiers were injured.
"Field Marshal, leave! The people are dangerous!" shouted the crowds. "Raise your voice! Our revolution will not die!"
The street violence comes less than three weeks before an election that represents the first chance for Egyptians to choose their leader freely. A successful vote would mark the most important step in a messy transition to democracy since the overthrow of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak 15 months ago.
Last-minute changes to the line-up of contenders, bickering over a new constitution and suspicion that the military will continue wielding power after a new president is chosen are making for a chaotic backdrop to the campaign.
The troops pressed forward when protesters began cutting through barbed wire used to seal off the ministry building in Cairo's central Abbasiya district.
Protesters ripped down a metal fence at an underground railway construction site to build a barricade. Some cried "God is Greatest" as army helicopters swooped overhead.
The teargas scattered the crowd far down the rock-strewn streets. Troops blocked off several streets between Abbasiya and central Cairo using armored personnel carriers and some fired shots in the air.
An army conscript died from a bullet wound to the stomach, the health ministry said in a statement carried by the state news agency MENA. Injuries suffered by others included teargas inhalation and cuts and bruises, some serious.
"The crowd is coming here with sharp weapons. We have batons and water cannon and teargas to disperse them," said one commander. "Some of them believe if they kill a soldier they will go to heaven. What do you expect us to do?"
The authorities detained more than 170 people for attacking troops and army officers, the website of the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported.
The public prosecutor also ordered the arrest of people suspected of inciting an earlier sit-in at the ministry, among them some well known personalities, Al-Ahram said, without giving their names.
VIOLENCE AFTER DARK
As dusk approached, gunfire rang out from the top of a mosque in Abbasiya. Army special forces climbed the minaret, brought down 10 people and drove them away.
The pro-democracy Sixth of April Youth movement said on its Facebook page its followers were withdrawing from the Abbasiya area because of the bloodshed.
Protesters regrouped closer to the town centre after dark, waiting to return to the defense ministry, and some threw rocks and stones at troops blocking their path, state media reported.
The one-night curfew will last from 11 p.m. local time (2100 GMT) to 7 a.m. on Saturday, the military council said in a statement read out on state television.
The army "calls on all citizens to adhere to this or the military will confront with determination those who try to violate it," it said, vowing legal action against those responsible for the unrest.
Some election candidates suspended their campaigns on Wednesday after unidentified assailants fired at protesters camping near the defense ministry, starting clashes that the security forces seemed unable or unwilling to quell.
Many of those protesters were hardline Salafi Islamists upset that their candidate was ruled out of the vote, which begins on May 23 and 24 with a run-off in June.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates parliament, saw its first choice disqualified too, handing a potential advantage to Mubarak-era contenders such as former foreign minister Amr Moussa and ex-prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.
Some Egyptians see the last-minute changes to the candidate line-up as proof the generals are trying to manipulate the vote.
"Remnants of Mubarak's regime are not eligible to assume any power," Hashem Islam, a sheikh from Egypt's highest authority of Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar, told protesters at the defense ministry.
Several thousand Islamists, liberals and left-wing revolutionaries also massed on Friday in Tahrir Square, headquarters of the street movement that has transformed decades of tightly-controlled Egyptian politics.
Banners draped in Tahrir demanded implementation of a law banning figures from the Mubarak era from high office.
Members of the ruling military council on Thursday renewed a pledge to exit politics after handing power to the new president by mid-year. They said the handover could come earlier in the unlikely event that one candidate wins outright in the first round.
But tension between the army's interim government and the Islamist-dominated parliament has left Egypt in a state of policy paralysis that is deepening an economic crisis caused by more than a year of political turmoil.
Mohamed el-Beltagy, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, said the violence since Wednesday was the result of a deliberate policy by the authorities to draw an unpredictable reaction from protesters and delay Egypt's political transition.
"This was done so that they (the authorities) could carry out emergency measures," he said.
(Additional reporting by Saad Hussein, Mohamed Abdallah and Ashraf Fahim; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6633 on: May 5th, 2012, 09:01am »
5 Guantanamo prisoners charged in Sept. 11 attacks back in court as long-stalled case resumes
By Associated Press, Updated: Saturday, May 5, 6:59 AM
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — The self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and four accused co-conspirators appeared in public for the first time in more than three years Saturday, when U.S. officials started a second attempt at what is likely to be a drawn out legal battle that could lead to the men’s executions.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants were being arraigned at a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay on charges that include that include 2,976 counts of murder for the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
In the past, during the failed first effort to prosecute them at the U.S. base in Cuba, Mohammed has mocked the tribunal and said he and his co-defendants would plead guilty and welcome execution. But there were signs that at least some of the defense teams were preparing for a lengthy fight, planning challenges of the military tribunals and the secrecy that shrouds the case.
The arraignment is “only the beginning of a trial that will take years to complete, followed by years of appellate review,” attorney James Connell, who represents defendant Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, told reporters gathered at the base to observe the hearing.
“I can’t imagine any scenario where this thing gets wrapped up in six months,” Connell said.
Defendants in what is known as a military commission typically do not enter a plea during their arraignment. Instead, the judge reads the charges, makes sure the accused understand their rights and then moves on to procedural issues. Lawyers for the men said they were prohibited by secrecy rules from disclosing the intentions of their clients.
Jim Harrington, a civilian attorney for Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni prisoner who has said at one hearing that he was proud of the Sept. 11 attacks, said he did not think that any of the defendants would plead guilty, notwithstanding their earlier statements.
Army Capt. Jason Wright, one of Mohammed’s Pentagon-appointed lawyers, declined to comment on the case.
As in previous hearings, a handful of people who lost family members in the attacks were selected by lottery to travel to the base to watch the proceedings. Other family members were gathering at military bases in New York and across the East Coast to watch the proceedings live on closed-circuit video.
Family members at Guantanamo said they were grateful for the chance to see a case they believe has been delayed too long.
Cliff Russell, whose firefighter brother Stephen died responding to the World Trade Center, said he hoped the case would end with the death penalty for the five Guantanamo Prisoners.
“I’m not looking forward to ending someone else’s life and taking satisfaction in it, but it’s the most disgusting, hateful, awful thing I ever could think of if you think about what was perpetrated,” Russell said.
Suzanne Sisolak of Brooklyn, whose husband Joseph was killed in his office in the trade center’s north tower, said she is not concerned about the ultimate outcome as long as the case moves forward and the five prisoners do not go free.
“They can put them in prison for life. They can execute them,” Sisolak said. “What I do care about is that this does not happen again. They need to be stopped. That’s what I care about because nobody deserves to have this happen to them.”
The arraignment for the five comes more than three years after President Barack Obama’s failed effort to try the suspects in a federal civilian court and close the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced in 2009 that Mohammed and his co-defendants would be tried blocks from the site of the destroyed trade center in downtown Manhattan, but the plan was shelved after New York officials cited huge costs to secure the neighborhood and family opposition to trying the suspects in the U.S.
Congress then blocked the transfer of any prisoners from Guantanamo to the U.S., forcing the Obama administration to refile the charges under a reformed military commission system.
New rules adopted by Congress and Obama forbid the use of testimony obtained through cruel treatment or torture. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, said the commission provides many of the same protections that defendants would get in civilian court. “I’m confident that this court can achieve justice and fairness,” he said.
But human rights groups and the defense lawyers say the reforms have not gone far enough and that restrictions on legal mail and the overall secret nature of Guantanamo and the commissions makes it impossible to provide an adequate defense.
They argue that the U.S. has sought to keep the case in the military commission to prevent disclosure of the harsh treatment of prisoners such as Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times and subjected to other measures that some have called torture.
Mohammed, a Pakistani citizen who grew up in Kuwait and attended college in Greensboro, North Carolina, has admitted to military authorities that he was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks “from A to Z,” as well as about 30 other plots, and that he personally killed Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Mohammed was captured in 2003 in Pakistan.
His four co-defendants include Binalshibh, a Yemeni, who was allegedly chosen to be a hijacker but couldn’t get a U.S. visa and ended up providing assistance such as finding flight schools; Waleed bin Attash, also from Yemen, who allegedly ran an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and researched flight simulators and timetables; Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, a Saudi accused of helping the hijackers with money, Western clothing, traveler’s checks and credit cards; and al-Aziz Ali, a Pakistani national and nephew of Mohammed, who allegedly provided money to the hijackers.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6634 on: May 6th, 2012, 08:39am »
5 May 2012
U.S. abandons consulate site in Afghanistan, citing security risks
By Ernesto Londoño
After signing a 10-year lease and spending more than $80 million on a site envisioned as the United States’ diplomatic hub in northern Afghanistan, American officials say they have abandoned their plans, deeming the location for the proposed compound too dangerous.
Eager to raise an American flag and open a consulate in a bustling downtown district of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, officials in 2009 sought waivers to stringent State Department building rules and overlooked significant security problems at the site, documents show. The problems included relying on local building techniques that made the compound vulnerable to a car bombing, according to an assessment by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that was obtained by The Washington Post.
The decision to give up on the site is the clearest sign to date that, as the U.S.-led military coalition starts to draw down troops amid mounting security concerns, American diplomats are being forced to reassess how to safely keep a viable presence in Afghanistan. The plan for the Mazar-e Sharif consulate, as laid out in a previously undisclosed diplomatic memorandum, is a cautionary tale of wishful thinking, poor planning and the type of stark choices the U.S. government will have to make in coming years as it tries to wind down its role in the war.
In March 2009, Richard C. Holbrooke, who had recently been appointed President Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, lobbied for the establishment of a consulate in Mazar-e Sharif within 60 days, according to the memo. The city was deemed relatively safe at the time, far removed from Taliban strongholds of the south. A consulate just a short walk from Mazar-e Sharif’s Blue Mosque, one of the country’s most sacred religious sites, was seen as a way to reassure members of the ethnic Tajik and Uzbek minorities that dominate the north that the United States was committed to Afghanistan for the long haul.
“At the time, [Holbrooke] pushed hard to identify property and stand up an interim consulate, on a very tight timeline, to signal our commitment to the Afghan people,” according to the January memo by Martin Kelly, the acting management counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Holbrooke died in 2010 of complications from heart surgery.
An embassy spokesman declined to respond to questions about the assessment of the Mazar-e Sharif compound, saying that as a policy matter officials do not discuss leaked documents.
Trouble from the start
Had the Mazar-e Sharif consulate opened this year as planned, it would have been the second of four the U.S. government intends to set up. The United States has a consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat and is assessing options for the three other cities where it intends to keep a permanent diplomatic presence: Kandahar in the south, Jalalabad in the east and Mazar-e Sharif.
The embassy memo says the facility was far from ideal from the start. The compound, which housed a hotel when the Americans took it on, shared a wall with local shopkeepers. The space between the outer perimeter wall and buildings inside — a distance known as “setback” in war zone construction — was not up to U.S. diplomatic standards set by the State Department’s Overseas Security Policy Board. The complex was surrounded by several tall buildings from which an attack could easily be launched.
“The Department nonetheless granted exceptions to standards to move forward quickly, establish an interim presence and raise the flag,” Kelly wrote.
Among the corners cut in the interest of expediency, the memo says, was failing to assess how well the facility could withstand a car bombing, a task normally carried out by the department’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations. After Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker arrived in Kabul in July, officials asked the bureau to conduct a blast assessment.
“We believe the survey will show that a [car bomb] would cause catastrophic failure of the building in light of the local construction techniques and materials,” Kelly wrote.
The structure’s outer perimeter wall is composed of sun-dried bricks made from mud, straw and manure, and the contractor used untreated timber for the roof, the memo says.
A chain of security incidents has prevented U.S. officials from moving into the facility, which was scheduled to be ready for occupancy last month. Most notable was the April 2011 attack on the United Nations compound, which is close to the would-be U.S. consulate. A mob enraged by the burning of Korans by a fringe American pastor stormed into the compound after Friday prayers and killed three European U.N. workers and four of their Nepalese guards.
Susceptible to attack
There were other reasons for concern. In August, according to the memo, Afghan security forces uncovered a “sophisticated surveillance operation against the consulate, including information about plans to breach the consulate site.” In December, four people were killed in a bombing at the Blue Mosque, less than an eighth of a mile from the prospective consulate.
The attacks and threats, Kelly wrote, “are symptomatic of a real, measurable uptick in the threat stream.” The hours-long attack in September on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from a nearby building under construction renewed concerns about the vulnerabilities of the Mazar-e Sharif site.
“The entire compound is surrounded by buildings with overwatch and there is almost no space on the compound that cannot be watched, or fired upon, from an elevated position outside the compound,” Kelly wrote.
Responding effectively to an emergency at the consulate would be next to impossible, Kelly noted, because the facility does not have space for a Black Hawk helicopter to land. It would take a military emergency response team 11 / 2 to 2 hours to reach the site “under good conditions,” he said.
In December, embassy officials began exploring alternative short-term sites for their diplomatic staff in northern Afghanistan. A Western diplomat familiar with the situation said the United States has sought, so far in vain, to persuade the German and Swedish governments to sublet it. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter, said European diplomats have found the prospect laughable.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6635 on: May 6th, 2012, 08:44am »
New York Times
May 5, 2012
A Desert Town on the Way Up ... to Space By KENNETH CHANG
MOJAVE, Calif. — The sign into town, slightly weathered, says “Gateway to Space!”
Beyond it lies the Mojave Air and Space Port, once a Marine auxiliary air station during World War II, now an incubator for the tinkerers and dreamers in the New Space movement. Adherents believe that the next phase of space exploration will be led by nimble, ambitious entrepreneurs — a new generation of people like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, who helped create the electronics industry in a garage — and that this is their moment to come together and make it happen.
“It’s very similar to the Silicon Valley effect,” said Stuart O. Witt, the chief executive of the space port for the past decade, explaining how half a dozen outer space start-ups came to cluster at Mojave, a small desert town about 90 miles north of Los Angeles.
This is where the first private, piloted spacecraft, SpaceShipOne, launched in 2004. Virgin Galactic is now conducting flight tests of a larger version, called SpaceShipTwo, that will take tourists on jaunts 62 miles up, giving them a brief bout of weightlessness. Small start-ups here are also developing new rocket fuels and trying to transform a discarded second stage of a rocket into a prototype moon lander.
This month, the headline event for this push of entrepreneurs will take place on the other side of the country, at Cape Canaveral, Fla., where the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, plans to launch cargo (but no people) to the International Space Station.
Until now, all spacecraft going to and from the station have been government-operated vehicles like NASA’s space shuttles and Russian Soyuz capsules. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, perched atop its Falcon 9 rocket, will be the first purely commercial supply ship — albeit one paid for by NASA — to make the trip. The launching, delayed several times, is now scheduled for May 19.
The mélange of small aerospace companies at Mojave shows that the ambitions of the New Space movement go far beyond serving as a delivery service for NASA.
Two of the companies are fronted by famous billionaires: Virgin Galactic is part of Richard Branson’s empire, while Stratolaunch is the brainchild of Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft. Stratolaunch is building two cavernous structures, a factory to build an airplane with the widest wingspan and a hangar to store it in. The airplane will be an airborne launching pad for a rocket.
Then there are the lesser-known start-ups with shallower pockets and grungier work spaces. Masten Space Systems is housed in a one-floor box dating to Mojave’s World War II days. The workshop is essentially a large garage, with pieces of rockets sitting on the concrete floor.
Masten’s specialty is its software, which makes a rocket take off vertically, hover and then land softly on the launching pad.
David Masten, the founder, used to dabble in rockets while running a technology company in the Bay Area. After the company was sold to Cisco, he founded his rocket company and, three years ago, won $1 million in a NASA-sponsored competition to demonstrate precision flying similar to what would be needed for a future lunar lander.
“It’s not a hobby anymore,” said Joel Scotkin, Masten’s chief executive. “We’re essentially self-sufficient in terms of revenue right now as we grow our business and customers.”
The venture has attracted people like Nathan O’Konek. A lawyer by training, he was working in New York putting together finance deals and volunteering at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum to sate his fascination with space. On a visit to Mojave, he learned about Masten and chucked it all to move here, becoming the director of business operations.
With just 15 or so employees — the number changes with the flow of interns — Mr. O’Konek is often out at the launching pad helping load liquid oxygen into a rocket. Masten engineers fly their reusable rockets and conduct engine tests several times a week. “You’re out there all the time,” Mr. O’Konek said. “I like what we’re doing. It’s exciting, but I also like to see the other companies out there pushing the envelope.”
Even smaller is Firestar Technologies, which gets much of its money from federal research contracts. Its main product is an alternative fuel for the thrusters that spacecraft use to maneuver in space. The chemical currently used, hydrazine, is highly toxic, and Greg Mungas, Firestar’s chief executive, has a less toxic kind that could be tested soon on the space station.
Mr. Mungas started Firestar while at the University of Colorado, Boulder, but in 2009 he moved the company to Mojave, where it fit in more easily, adding to the cacophony of sonic booms, explosions and rocket launches that are heard daily. “There are very few experiments that you can’t basically design and run” in Mojave, he said. “It’s a very, very open environment for doing this kind of testing. It’s great.”
Mojave is also the home of Scaled Composites, started by Burt Rutan, an aerospace pioneer. It was he who designed the first plane to fly around the world without refueling: Voyager, which in 1986 took off from Mojave and landed here again nine days later.
The air and space port is in an area replete with aerospace history. Just to the south is Edwards Air Force Base, where many of the Air Force’s early rocket planes flew, including Chuck Yeager’s X-1, the first to break the sound barrier.
While Mr. Rutan’s company continued to thrive after the 1986 flight, the rest of Mojave languished. By the mid-1990s, the port was best known as a parking lot for mothballed jets that airlines could not afford to fly.
The modern history of Mojave as a space capital starts with a business failure: the Rotary Rocket Company. The founders of Rotary wanted to shake up the industry with a low-cost design that merged rocket propulsion with helicopter blades in a vehicle that could get all the way to orbit. A prototype of the vehicle, called the Roton, was built and got off the ground with three test hover flights — but then the company ran out of money and went out of business in 2001.
The Roton now sits in a small park at the port, a testament to the airfield’s philosophy.
“We actually take pride in giving people permission to fail,” said Mr. Witt, the port’s chief executive.
The Rotary people did not go away, but instead founded new space companies. Jeff Greason, Rotary’s propulsion chief, opened XCOR Aerospace, also at Mojave. The company is building a space plane called Lynx that, like SpaceShipTwo, is meant to take tourists on suborbital flights. The Lynx is smaller, with just two seats: one for the pilot, the other for the passenger.
XCOR has almost run out of money a couple of times — employees have gone without paychecks occasionally — but says it is flush with cash right now because of an infusion of investments. Test flights of the Lynx could begin this year.
Like everyone at the Mojave port, Mr. Greason is looking forward to the SpaceX capsule launching, viewing it as just the latest step along the road. “They have much to be proud of,” he said of SpaceX, run by Elon Musk, an Internet entrepreneur. “But I don’t believe they have reached the point where they are independent of NASA for their continued research and development activity.”
For that matter, neither have most of the start-ups here. While they cheer on Mr. Musk’s rocket, they hope the momentum they are building is larger than that flight’s fate.
“It’s ridiculous to condition the success or failure of the industry on any one launch,” Mr. Greason said, but “there is reason for optimism that in the next few years, one or more companies — I certainly hope we’re one of them — will become profitable.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6636 on: May 6th, 2012, 08:49am »
Angry Greeks vote in cliffhanger election
By Karolina Tagaris and Renee Maltezou ATHENS | Sun May 6, 2012 9:10am EDT
Greeks enraged by economic hardship voted on Sunday in a deeply uncertain election that could reignite Europe's debt crisis and throw into doubt the country's future in the euro zone.
At stake in the first general election since Greece detonated a wider European crisis at the end of 2009 is whether it will stick to the terms of a deeply unpopular EU/IMF bailout or start down a path that could take it out of the euro.
Leaders from all sides emphasized the importance of the vote for the future of Greece, which is suffering one of Europe's worst postwar recessions.
"We all agree that these elections are perhaps the most crucial and today each of us is deciding not only who will govern the country but also Greece's path for the next decades," said outgoing technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, as he cast his vote in Athens.
But many voters expressed their rage at the ruling parties.
"My vote was a protest vote because they cut my pension and there are more measures waiting for us around the corner," said 75-year-old pensioner Kalliopi, her fists clenched in anger.
"I live in a basement but pay the same (property) tax as someone who lives in a penthouse," said Kalliopi after voting in Athens.
Opinion polls indicate voters hit by record unemployment, collapsing businesses and steep wage cuts will return an unprecedented number of small parties opposed to austerity and punish conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK, who have ruled for decades.
They are the only major parties backing bailouts that averted bankruptcy but caused grinding hardship.
The prospect that they will fail to win enough votes for a coalition government, despite finishing first and second, has raised the risk of a prolonged period of uncertainty as they seek allies from anti-bailout parties.
Papademos said he thought a new government could be formed this week.
International lenders and investors fear success for up to seven small parties opposed to the bailout could lead to Greece reneging on its bailout terms, risking a sovereign default and dragging the euro zone back into the worst crisis since its creation.
"WE ARE ALREADY BANKRUPT"
Euro zone paymaster Germany has warned there would be "consequences" to an anti-bailout vote and the EU and IMF insist whoever wins the election must stick to austerity if they want to receive the aid that keeps Greece afloat.
But many voters shrugged off such threats.
"I don't think that voting for a small party will make us go bankrupt. We already are," said 53 year-old Panagiotis, a craftsman, after voting for the conservative Independent Greeks.
At another polling station, 37-year-old computer technician Giannis Papadopoulos said: "I am outraged and I have been angry for 2-1/2 years. Today I voted for one of the small parties and the only thing I can tell them is please don't repeat the mistakes the others have made so far."
But some voters, like 60-year-old housewife Mary, saw the bailout as the only possible course.
"I voted for tough but necessary measures. I'm sorry to say it but their blackmail has worked in my case. What I expect is only disaster, there is no hope. I believe it can only get worse but at least we'll stay in Europe," she said.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said the vote was the most crucial since the end of a military dictatorship in 1974, but he was booed as he left a polling station in Greece's second city of Thessaloniki.
Alexis Tsipras, Greece's youngest political leader and head of the small Left Coalition, told reporters:
"We are certain that the people will send a message to all of Europe for a change of course. There is no place for the barbarity of bailouts in our common European path and we are certain that the Greek people will turn the page."
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and will close at 7 p.m., with many voters deciding at the last minute.
The first indication of the result is expected in exit polls immediately after voting stations close, but it could take many more hours to get the final outcome or even a clear picture under a complex electoral system that gives a 50-seat bonus to the first party.
TOO CLOSE TO CALL
Pollsters say this is the most unpredictable election in decades, as the traditional left-right divide gives way to pro- or anti-bailout supporters.
"All our tools are based on a society that does not exist anymore," said Costas Panagopoulos, at ALCO pollsters. "We cannot exclude any scenario."
The anti-bailout parties are too divided to rule together and even if New Democracy and PASOK scrape enough votes to renew a fractious coalition they set up in November to clinch a second, 130 billion euros bailout, the government could be too weak to weather public anger for long.
"The risk is high that after the elections, no stable coalition can be formed which would be willing to implement the next budget cuts and reforms," Berenberg Bank said in a note.
It said if Greece did renege on its commitments, it would probably have to leave the euro, something most Greeks oppose.
The acid test will come fast: the new government must next month get parliament to approve over 11 billion euros in extra spending cuts for 2013 and 2014 in exchange for more aid.
With an economy which is forecast to shrink by another five percent in 2012, that will be a tough task in a newly hostile parliament.
If no party wins outright, the president will give the biggest group - likely to be New Democracy - three days to form a government. If it fails, the next largest group gets a chance and so on down the line. If they all fail, new polls would be called in about three weeks.
The Greek ballot could well steal the limelight from the expected election of Socialist Francois Hollande as president in France, where anger over economic pain has also played a leading role.
"The wild card is Greece, and markets are starting to get nervous about it," said Sassan Ghahramani, CEO of New York-based hedge fund advisers SGH Macro. "We could see peripheral bonds and the euro pressured on Monday."
(Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander, Lefteris Papadimas, Dina Kyriakidou and George Georgiopoulos.; Writing by Barry Moody,; editing by Mike Peacock)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6637 on: May 6th, 2012, 08:54am »
TV Ratings: 'Fringe,' 'Grimm' Down, 'Nikita' Holds Steady 9:50 AM PDT 5/5/2012 by Seth Abramovitch
Seeing modest gains in "Shark Tank" and "Primetime: What Would You Do," ABC dominated the adults 18-49 demo -- while Fox and NBC saw slight dips in their scripted fare.
ABC eked ahead of CBS in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo on Friday night, earning an evening average of 1.5, versus CBS' 1.4. But CBS was the clear winner with total viewers, averaging an audience of 8.4 million against ABC's 5.2 million.
The final Fringe before next week's season finale slipped to a .9 rating in the 18-49 demo, down from last week's 1.0, and an audience of 2.9 million viewers. Lead-in The Finder also slipped a tenth, down to a .9. It had a total viewership of 4 million.
NBC saw similar drops of one-tenth across its lineup: Who Do You Think You Are ? scored a .9, down from 1.0 last week, and 4.8 million viewers. Dark, fairytale procedural Grimm earned a 1.3 in 18-49, down from 1.4, and a total audience of 4.8 million.
Only ABC saw audience gains in adults 18-49, both with their enterpreneurial reality show Shark Tank -- which scored a 1.7 in adults 18-49, up from last week's 1.4 -- and Primetime: What Would You Do?, which scored a 1.4, up from last week's 1.1.
CBS saw losses across the board in the 18-49 demo, with Undercover Boss dipping from a 1.6 to a 1.4, and a total audience of 6.6 million viewers, and CSI: NY dropping two-tenths to a 1.5, with 8.6 million viewers. But those older-trending audiences won the night for the network in overall viewers.
Perpetual bubble series Nikita on The CW, meanwhile, was dead-even with last week, earning a .4 in adults 18-49. Supernatural held steady at .7, too.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6638 on: May 7th, 2012, 08:32am »
Iraq court to free U.S. killings suspect: lawyer
BAGHDAD | Mon May 7, 2012 8:19am EDT
A suspected Hezbollah militant accused of masterminding the killing of Americans in Iraq has been cleared of all charges and will be freed, his lawyer said on Monday, in an announcement that is likely to anger Washington.
Ali Mussa Daqduq was accused of training Iraqi militants and orchestrating a 2007 kidnapping attack that killed five U.S. troops.
"The Iraqi judiciary decided to dismiss all the charges against him and release him without any conditions because there was a lack of evidence," his lawyer Abdulalmehdi al-Mutiri said by telephone.
Daqduq's case became a source of tension between Baghdad and Washington in the run-up to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in December.
U.S. government officials originally sought to keep Daqduq in custody, saying they feared Iraqi authorities would be unable to hold him for long or convict him.
The U.S. officials said they eventually agreed to hand him over to the Iraqi authorities after receiving assurances Daqduq would be tried for his crimes.
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad did not immediately respond to requests for a reaction on Monday.
Daqduq's lawyer said the Iraqi government would decide whether he would be sent back to his native Lebanon after his release or handed over to his embassy in Baghdad.
(Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6639 on: May 7th, 2012, 08:36am »
French, Greek voters say no to austerity By Anthony Faiola 6 May 2012
LONDON — Voters in France and Greece redrew Europe’s political map Sunday in a powerful backlash against the German-led cure for the region’s debt crisis: painful austerity.
In France, voters swept Francois Hollande into the nation’s highest office, ejecting President Nicolas Sarkozy and bringing the Socialists back to the Elysee Palace for the first time in 17 years. Along with Germany’s Angela Merkel, the blunt-talking Sarkozy was a chief architect of Europe’s push to restore confidence in the euro through tough fiscal discipline. In contrast, Hollande vowed to focus on economic growth, arguing that the singular emphasis on spending cuts has weighted down Europe with recessions and soaring unemployment.
Yet potentially more disruptive to Europe’s crisis management plans, furious voters in Greece dealt a powerful blow to traditional parties that backed the tough terms of the country’s massive international bailout. The result left centrists in Athens scrambling to form a fragile new government against strengthened ranks of the far left and right. Even the leader of a center-right party that earned the most votes — New Democracy — backtracked on a pledge to support the bailout conditions late Sunday, casting fresh doubt on Greece’s rescue deal and the nation’s ability to remain within the euro zone.
The results in France and Greece came after a tumultuous few weeks in which the Dutch government fell and Britain’s Conservative-led coalition received a licking in local elections. In all cases, front and center was the growing debate over austerity vs. growth, with opponents of strict cuts arguing that they are succeeding only in driving the region’s economies into the ground.
Lessons on spending cuts
The pushback in Europe could hold tough lessons for the United States, where government spending and the deficit have emerged as major election-year issues. Presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney has vowed to cut the deficit at a faster pace than President Obama. But the mixed results of such policies in Europe — where a voter backlash has brought down leaders in Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and now France and Greece — could make the argument for speedy deficit reduction increasingly difficult.
In Europe, the rapidly changing political landscape is throwing up new challenges as the region struggles to end a debt crisis that has loomed over the global economy for more than two years. That is especially true for Merkel, who has led the argument that such woes can be fixed only by foisting fiscal restraint — of the kind Germany imposed after its 1990 reunification — on heavily indebted nations that share the euro currency.
In Germany, meanwhile, Merkel’s party faced a setback in regional elections Sunday, with her Christian Democrats in danger of losing power in their fourth state in two years after their worst showing in Schleswig-Holstein since 1950.
Farther west, a triumphant Hollande said Sunday that he would work for “a reorientation of Europe, for growth, for employment, for the future.” He added that “in quite a few European countries” hit by austerity, his arrival marked “a relief, a sign of hope.” He conceded that France must get a grip on its deficit but said he wanted to add a “dimension of growth” to the debt-reduction struggle, adding: “This is what I will tell our friends, and, above all, Germany, in the name of the friendship that unites us.”
Analysts say voters across the region generally appear to support the notion of good-fiscal governance and balanced budgets. But those spending cuts have come too quickly for European electorates, and they see their leaders as unable to link the austerity measures with new engines of growth.
“We have a problem, and all of Europe has a problem,” with austerity, said Eleni Vardakis, 42, a nurse at a public hospital in Athens who voted in Sunday’s elections. Public health spending has been subjected to major cuts in Greece because of bailout conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. “People have done enough. They’re willing to do even more if they see there’s a future. We’re trying to move toward the light, but it’s getting further and further ahead.”
Merkel’s French problem
Since the onset of Europe’s debt crisis in September 2009, the response has been largely guided by two leaders — Merkel and Sarkozy. That partnership was key in drafting the bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, and in the inking of a fiscal accord for the region in December that places strict and enforceable limits on public spending to reassure investors.
Hollande, however, has vowed to renegotiate that treaty. That position led Merkel to take the unusual step of endorsing Sarkozy ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Yet analysts say Hollande — who is set to make Berlin his first official destination as president — will try hard to reach a meeting of the minds with Merkel, who may have to reluctantly agree to new measures aimed at promoting economic growth. Those actions could include new investments in E.U.-funded infrastructure projects aimed at creating jobs and pulling some of the region’s hardest-hit economies out of recession.
Some say Hollande is presenting what could emerge as an alternative view to Germany’s message of cut, cut, cut. Hollande, too, agrees with the notion of balanced budgets — a goal he promises to achieve in France by 2017. But he is seeking to shift more of the burden on the rich — proposing a 75 percent tax rate for the wealthiest French citizens. At the same time, he is eyeing a higher minimum wage and a boost in job growth through the hiring of new educators funded at least in part through tax increases.
Some of his pledges could begin to address the concerns of those economists who say Europe is making things worse by pushing cuts too fast, too soon. But ahead of the election, France’s borrowing costs edged up as investors grew jittery about Hollande’s commitment to running a tight fiscal ship. If he is seen as leaning toward overspending, analysts say, France could quickly come under direct fire from investors, igniting a dangerous new chapter in the debt crisis.
At the same time, without Sarkozy, Merkel could find herself more isolated in the push to keep austerity at the top of Europe’s agenda. It could also make it harder for the Germans to force new waves of cuts later this year if indebted nations in the region miss their budget targets — a likely circumstance given how slowing economies are hurting national coffers across Europe.
“German politicians are worried. They know their domestic public is unsympathetic to the travails of the euro zone’s indebted countries, and what they’re worried about is Hollande coming in and talking a less firm line on cuts,” said Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London-based think tank. “They want to keep the pressure on, and they don’t know how much of a partner they have in Hollande.”
Correspondents Michael Birnbaum in Athens and Edward Cody in Paris contributed to this report.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6640 on: May 7th, 2012, 08:41am »
Some Pilots Refuse to Fly as Stealth Jet’s Oxygen Problems Worsen By David Axe May 6, 2012 | 7:00 pm Categories: Air Force
The Air Force’s F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and their faulty oxygen systems are choking their pilots. One attempt at a quick fix only made the problem worse. Despite this the Air Force, ordered its roughly 200 Raptor pilots to keep flying. Now Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Josh Wilson, both experienced Raptor fliers with the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Fighter Wing, have refused to fly an airplane that they claim is fatally flawed.
In an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, Gordon and Wilson say they aren’t alone. A “vast, silent majority” of Raptor fliers fears for their lives as their high- and fast-flying jets cause them to black out or become confused in mid-air. Some pilots have taken out extra life-insurance policies. And Air Force doctors “absolutely” have said no one should fly the $400-million-a-copy F-22 until the jet’s oxygen woes are resolved, Gordon and Wilson claim.
But Gordon and Wilson say the Air Force has threatened to fire any F-22 pilot who refuses to fly for safety reasons. The Virginia Guardsmen appealed to Rep. Adam Kinzinger, himself an Air Force pilot, for protection under the federal whistleblower law. The Air Force, perhaps fearing a wider mutiny, has launched a charm offensive aimed at reassuring skeptical aviators and the public.
At the same time, the flying branch is expanding F-22 operations with new, ultra-realistic training exercises and a high-profile deployment to an airbase near Iran. The Raptor’s tendency to suffocate its pilot threatens to sideline the jet at a defining moment in its front-line service.
In 2010 Capt. Jeffrey Haney died when his F-22 crashed in Alaska. Despite evidence that Haney had blacked out just prior to hitting the ground, the Air Force officially blamed the incident on pilot error.
But other Raptor pilots reported signs of oxygen deprivation. In February last year Wilson was at the controls of his F-22 on a training flight when he began feeling disoriented. “I had to really concentrate, immense concentration on just doin’ simple, simple tasks,” he tells 60 Minutes. “And our training tells you if you suspect something’s probably goin’ on, go ahead and pull your emergency oxygen and come back home. When I did make that decision to pull the emergency oxygen ring, I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t remember, you know, what part of the aircraft it was in.”
Three months later, the Air Force temporarily grounded all of its Raptors so it could study the problem.
But that five-month stand-down, and a more limited grounding in October, did not result in any major changes to the F-22′s on-board oxygen-generating system. “We didn’t find a definitive cause for the incidents,” Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, an Air Force spokesman, told Danger Room. As a stopgap the flying branch equipped every Raptor pilot with a heartbeat monitor and installed an extra charcoal filter in the oxygen generator.
The charcoal filters were faulty and shed residue into the jets’ oxygen systems. The Air Force removed them last week after pilots began coughing up what 60 Minutes describes as “black sputum.”
The blackouts continued. In October Gordon and his wingman both reported oxygen shortages. In all, Raptor pilots suffered 11 black-outs or near-blackouts between October and May, 60 Minutes reports.
But the Air Force kept the F-22s in the air. “We live in a community where risk is part of our lives,” Gen. Mike Hostage, the Air Force’s top fighter commander, said at an April ceremony in Virginia celebrating the F-22. “Right now, we believe that risk — although it’s not as low as we would like it — is low enough to safely operate the airplane at the current tempo.”
Hostage said he would qualify in the F-22 and fly it regularly until the oxygen problem is resolved. “I’m asking these guys to assume some risk that’s over and above what everybody else is assuming, and I don’t feel like it’s right that I ask them to do it and then I’m not willing to do it myself,” he said.
Meanwhile, the cumulative effects of oxygen deprivation are apparent among Raptor fliers, Gordon says. “In a room full of F-22 pilots, the vast majority will be coughing a lot of the times. Other things — laying down for bed at night after flying and getting just the spinning room feeling, dizziness, tumbling, vertigo kind of stuff.”
The whistleblowers anticipate more deaths as the Air Force pushes its Raptor crews to continue flying despite overwhelming evidence of the jet’s faultiness. “We are waiting for somethin’ to happen,” Wilson says. “And if it happens, nobody’s going to be surprised. I think it’s a matter of time.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6642 on: May 7th, 2012, 11:57am »
Another private space company:
Secretive Blue Origin reveals new details of spacecraft plans
By Leonard David Published May 07, 2012 Space.com
The curtain of secrecy is being raised by Blue Origin, a private entrepreneurial space group designing both suborbital and orbital vehicles.
Backed by Amazon.com mogul Jeff Bezos, the Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin group has completed wind tunnel testing of its next-generation craft, simply called the "Space Vehicle." It would transport up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. Though the company has been stingy on public information in the past, new details of the recent work have been released.
Blue Origin's spacecraft sports a biconic shape, with its design refined by more than 180 wind tunnel tests and extensive computational fluid dynamics analysis. To help validate the spacecraft's shape and body flap configuration, tests were recently carried out over several weeks at Lockheed Martin's High Speed Wind Tunnel Facility in Dallas.
The testing was conducted as part of Blue Origin's partnership with NASA, under the agency's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which awarded the company $22 million in 2011 to develop the vehicle.
"Our Space Vehicle's innovative biconic shape provides greater cross-range and interior volume than traditional capsules without the weight penalty of winged spacecraft," said Rob Meyerson, president and program manager of Blue Origin.
"This is just one of the vehicle's many features that enhance the safety and affordability of human spaceflight, a goal we share with NASA," Meyerson said in a statement.
Also under CCDev, Blue Origin is ready to start conducting tests of its BE-3 engine thrust chamber assembly — the engine's combustion chamber and nozzle — for the BE-3's 100,000 pounds of thrust, liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-fueled rocket motor.
The BE-3 will be used on Blue Origin's reusable launch vehicle. "It's on the E-1 test stand now," at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, "and we're close to conducting the first firings," said Brett Alexander, director of business development and strategy for Blue Origin, who is based in Washington, D.C.
Blue Origin is a private company developing vehicles and technologies to enable commercial human space transportation. Founded in 2000, the company explains that it has a long-term vision of greatly increasing the number of people that fly into space through low-cost, highly reliable commercial space transportation.
But why so tight-lipped about its enterprising work?
"There are really two reasons," Alexander said. "One is we like to talk about things we've done — not things we're planning to do. So it's more about accomplishments. After all, the space business is hard. Things always take longer than you'd expect. I think that's true for newer space companies, as well as established space companies."
Another reason, Alexander continued, is that "we don't want to get off-focus. We're a very intense engineering, technical company. We don't have a lot of accountants for contracts…and the more time we spend talking about things, there's less time we spend doing things."
Blue Origin makes use of its own spaceport located about 25 miles north of Van Horn, Texas.
Over the years, test flights of Blue Origin hardware from the spaceport have seen both success and at least one publicly announced crash in 2011.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6644 on: May 8th, 2012, 08:35am »
Afghanistan no longer worst place for mothers: report
By Amie Ferris-Rotman KABUL Tue May 8, 2012 9:29am EDT
Better healthcare and more girls attending school have knocked Afghanistan from its position as the worst place on earth to be a mother, Save the Children said in a major report on Tuesday, but stressed the precarious nature of any gains.
"More mothers are surviving and fewer children are dying and this is something we need to be celebrating," said Rachel Maranto, Advocacy and Mobilisation senior Manager at Save the Children in Kabul.
Afghanistan switched places with Niger in western Africa in Save the Children's 'Mothers' Index', which fell back to bottom place, a spot Afghanistan occupied for the past two years.
This was partly achieved by the number of births attended by trained professionals in Afghanistan rising from 14 percent to 24 percent between 2003 and 2008, and girls in formal education, which has gone from zero in 2001 to 2.5 million today.
Afghan women have won back hard-fought rights in education, voting and work since the five-year austere rule of the Taliban was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001.
But their plight remains severe and Maranto warned that such gains are "fragile".
LOT MORE TO DO
Foreign aid accounts for more than 80 percent of Afghanistan's annual state budget of roughly $5 billion, and that is set to dramatically fall as foreign combat troops prepare to leave by the end of 2014.
Rick Manning, medical director at Cure International's hospital in Kabul, said there were "encouraging signs" that life for mothers and children was improving, but warned: "It's more complicated than just spending money. It's getting the right people here to make sure the money is used correctly."
In a neonatal intensive care unit run by the non-profit Cure -- one of only five in the country -- Manning surveyed the row of incubators where tiny babies born prematurely were sleeping.
"About every infant who comes in here would have died if they were not admitted here. So a lot more of these care units need to be made, staffed, housed. A lot more needs to be done."
During the rule of the Taliban, women were denied access to general hospitals from 1998 and not allowed out of their homes without a male relative or their husband, meaning their health deteriorated and the child mortality rate shot up.
For Halima, whose 18-month-old son Hamid is recovering from a free of charge cleft lip operation at Cure, one of almost 3,000 it has performed since opening in 2005, life has definitely improved.
"This simply would have not been possible during the time of the Taliban," said the illiterate mother from a village in central Bamiyan province.
Maranto said Afghanistan is haunted by the huge divide between urban centers, where women have more access to healthcare and education, and the rural areas, where life carries on much as it did during the time of the Taliban.
As a result, Afghanistan suffers from widespread malnutrition, which leads to 60 percent of Afghan children being affected by stunting, and 275 children die every day in the country of 30 million, Save the Children said in its report.
"There are many women and many mothers who may never be able to see a doctor or a nurse or any kind of trained health worker in their lifetime," said Maranto.