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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 127189 times)
WingsofCrystal
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« Reply #690 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:20am »

on Aug 16th, 2010, 07:57am, Swamprat wrote:
Good moooorning!! It's Mooooonday!! grin


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Good morning Swamprat!!!
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« Reply #691 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:23am »

New York Times

August 16, 2010
Security Firms Asked to Disband in Afghanistan
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 8:46 a.m. ET

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's president is setting a four-month deadline for private security companies to cease operations in the country, a spokesman said Monday.

A presidential decree expected to be issued later Monday will detail the process through which the companies should cease operations, spokesman Waheed Omar told reporters in Kabul.

President Hamid Karzai has said repeatedly in recent months that these companies undermine government security forces, creating a parallel security structure. Contractors perform duties ranging from guarding supply convoys to personal security details for diplomats and businessmen.

The imminent decree expedites action that Karzai had promised in his inauguration speech in November, when he said he wanted to close down both foreign and domestic security contractors within two years.

''Within four months, all private security companies will be disbanded,'' Omar said, but declined to go into detail before the decree is released.

The Interior Ministry has 52 security firms licensed, but some older contracts are still being completed by unlicensed firms, according to the U.S. military. There are about 26,000 private security contractors working for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, 19,000 of them with the military, officials said.

As in Iraq, the conduct of security contractors in Afghanistan -- particularly those working with U.S. forces -- has been a source of tension, with complaints that they are poorly regulated and effectively operate outside local law.

A spokesman for the U.S. military said the United States supports Karzai's goal of eliminating private security firms but would not comment on whether it would be possible to meet the deadline.

''We are in total support of the president of Afghanistan's intent to do away with private security companies and to do away with the need for private security companies,'' Maj. Joel Harper said. ''This should be done in a logical and sequential manner, and as conditions permit.''

The U.S. military set up a task force in June to tighten regulation and oversight of its security contractors, but its top official has stayed away from talk of deadlines.

''Since the Afghan army and the Afghan police are not quite at the stages of capability and capacity to provide all the security that is needed, private security companies are filling a gap,'' Brig. Gen. Margaret Boor said Monday before the announcement.

Boor said private security contractors can only be phased out as the security situation improves -- a hard target given worsening security in recent months in areas of northern and central Afghanistan that had previously been relatively safe.

The majority of U.S. military contractors provide base security, though some also protect convoys, Harper said.

Karzai has said such responsibilities should fall to either soldiers or police.

Though the U.S. task force is new, Boor said it is already taking steps to improve oversight of security firms, including registering all contractors and ensuring they have the necessary qualifications and receive training on appropriate use of force.

NATO troops operate under firm rules spelling out conditions under which they can use deadly force.

Private security contractors in Afghanistan are subject to Afghan law, unlike the situation that persisted through most of the war in Iraq, where those working for the U.S. military were immune from prosecution by Iraqi authorities.

Contractors in Iraq lost their immunity when a U.S.-Iraqi security pact took effect Jan. 1, 2009. The move to tighten oversight followed Iraqi outrage over a Sept. 16, 2007, shooting in which 17 Iraq civilians were killed in a Baghdad square.

Blackwater said its guards were protecting diplomats under attack before they opened fire, but Iraqi investigators concluded the shooting was unprovoked.

Contractors have been in the spotlight on several occasions in Afghanistan.

In 2009, a private security contractor hired to protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was exposed for holding lurid parties flowing with alcohol, with guards and supervisors photographed in various stages of nudity. A U.S. government investigation also found Amorgroup employees frequented Kabul brothels.

In February, U.S. Senate investigators said the contractor formerly known as Blackwater hired violent drug users to help train the Afghan army and declared ''sidearms for everyone'' -- even though employees weren't authorized to carry weapons. The allegations came as part of an investigation into the 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians by employees of the company, now known as Xe.

Last month police a crowd of angry Afghans shouted ''Death to America'' after an SUV driven by U.S. contract employees from DynCorp International was involved in a traffic accident that killed four Afghans.

Omar said greater regulation of security companies would not solve the problem.

''It's not about regulating the activities of the private security companies, it's about their presence and it's about the way they function in Afghanistan. And it's about the way they have developed into alternative forces,'' Omar said.

''The security companies have to go.''

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/08/16/world/asia/AP-AS-Afghan-Security-Contractors.html?_r=1&ref=world

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« Reply #692 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:25am »

New York Times

August 15, 2010
Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain
By MATT RICHTEL

GLEN CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, Utah — Todd Braver emerges from a tent nestled against the canyon wall. He has a slight tan, except for a slim pale band around his wrist.

For the first time in three days in the wilderness, Mr. Braver is not wearing his watch. “I forgot,” he says.

It is a small thing, the kind of change many vacationers notice in themselves as they unwind and lose track of time. But for Mr. Braver and his companions, these moments lead to a question: What is happening to our brains?

Mr. Braver, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, was one of five neuroscientists on an unusual journey. They spent a week in late May in this remote area of southern Utah, rafting the San Juan River, camping on the soft banks and hiking the tributary canyons.

It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.

Cellphones do not work here, e-mail is inaccessible and laptops have been left behind. It is a trip into the heart of silence — increasingly rare now that people can get online even in far-flung vacation spots.

As they head down the tight curves the San Juan has carved from ancient sandstone, the travelers will, not surprisingly, unwind, sleep better and lose the nagging feeling to check for a phone in the pocket. But the significance of such changes is a matter of debate for them.

Some of the scientists say a vacation like this hardly warrants much scrutiny. But the trip’s organizer, David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, says that studying what happens when we step away from our devices and rest our brains — in particular, how attention, memory and learning are affected — is important science.

“Attention is the holy grail,” Mr. Strayer says.

“Everything that you’re conscious of, everything you let in, everything you remember and you forget, depends on it.”

Echoing other researchers, Mr. Strayer says that understanding how attention works could help in the treatment of a host of maladies, like attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia and depression. And he says that on a day-to-day basis, too much digital stimulation can “take people who would be functioning O.K. and put them in a range where they’re not psychologically healthy.”

The quest to understand the impact on the brain of heavy technology use — at a time when such use is exploding — is still in its early stages. To Mr. Strayer, it is no less significant than when scientists investigated the effects of consuming too much meat or alcohol.

But stepping away is easier for some than others. The trip begins with a strong defense of digital connectedness, a debate that revolves around one particularly important e-mail.

On the Road

The five scientists on the trip can be loosely divided into two groups: the believers and the skeptics.

The believers are Mr. Strayer and Paul Atchley, 40, a professor at the University of Kansas who studies teenagers’ compulsive use of cellphones. They argue that heavy technology use can inhibit deep thought and cause anxiety, and that getting out into nature can help. They take pains in their own lives to regularly log off.

The skeptics use their digital gadgets without reservation. They are not convinced that anything lasting will come of the trip — personally or scientifically.

This group includes the fast-talking Mr. Braver, 41, a brain imaging expert; Steven Yantis, 54, the tall and contemplative chairman of the psychological and brain sciences department at Johns Hopkins, who studies how people switch between tasks; and Art Kramer, 57, a white-bearded professor at the University of Illinois who has gained attention for his studies of the neurological benefits of exercise.

Also on the trip are a reporter and a photographer, and Richard Boyer, a quiet outdoorsman and accomplished landscape painter, who helps Mr. Strayer lead the journey.

Among the bright academic lights in the group, Mr. Kramer is the most prominent. At the time of the trip he was about to take over a $300,000-a-year position as director of the Beckman Institute, a leading research center at the University of Illinois with around 1,000 scientists and staff workers and tens of millions of dollars in grant financing.

He is also intense personally — someone who has been challenging himself since early in life; he says he left home when he was a teenager, became an amateur boxer and, later, flew airplanes, rock-climbed and smashed his knee in a “high-speed skiing accident.”

They are driving six hours from Salt Lake City to the river, and they stop at a camping store for last-minute supplies. Mr. Kramer waits out front, checking e-mail on his BlackBerry Curve. This sets off a debate between the believers and skeptics.

Back in the car, Mr. Kramer says he checked his phone because he was waiting for important news: whether his lab has received a $25 million grant from the military to apply neuroscience to the study of ergonomics. He has instructed his staff to send a text message to an emergency satellite phone the group will carry with them.

Mr. Atchley says he doesn’t understand why Mr. Kramer would bother. “The grant will still be there when you get back,” he says.

“Of course you’d want to know about a $25 million grant,” Mr. Kramer responds. Pressed by Mr. Atchley on the significance of knowing immediately, he adds: “They would expect me to get right back to them.”

It is a debate that has become increasingly common as technology has redefined the notion of what is “urgent.” How soon do people need to get information and respond to it? The believers in the group say the drumbeat of incoming data has created a false sense of urgency that can affect people’s ability to focus.

more after the jump
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/technology/16brain.html?ref=science

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« Reply #693 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:30am »

Telegraph

Nasa should 'focus energy on new £1bn telescope to find alien planets'

A billion pound space telescope that can see dark matter and can identify Earth-like planets should be Nasa’s priority over the next decade, a panel of influential scientists said.

By Andrew Hough
Published: 1:00PM BST 16 Aug 2010

The $1.6 billion Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) should be the top priority for space agency astronomers and astrophysicists to develop, the independent National Research Council report concluded.

The two year-study, titled The Astro2010 Decadal Survey “New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics", said the 5-foot (1.5-metre) field-of-view device, due to launch in 2020, was one of the most exciting generation of telescopes.

Scientists said the telescope, which would orbit a "stable gravitational point" just above the Earth, would target the early universe, search for close habitable planets and “test the boundaries of fundamental physics”.

It would also answer “fundamental questions” about the nature of dark energy and search for “Exoplanets” or planets outside the Solar System.

The 23-person expert panel's report recommendations are used to decide which astronomy and astrophysics projects Nasa, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) should fund over the next decade.

Experts said Nasa follows the guidance to formulate its mission portfolio and top-ranked recommendations are almost always implemented in some form.

The space community views the report as an influential barometer for research that sets a roadmap for scientific priorities that will “set the nation firmly on the path to answering profound questions about the cosmos”.

"What we've seen over the last decade and can confidently expect for the next is unscripted discovery," said Roger Blandford, of Stanford University in California, who led the study.

"Powerful new ways to observe the universe and bold ideas to understand it have created scientific opportunities without precedent.

“The program of research that we recommend will optimise the science return for future ground-based projects and space missions in a time of constrained budgets and limited resources.”

The NRC, part of the National Academy of Sciences, had asked leading astronomers and physicists to review 100 projects to determine which missions offered the best science value. They also reviewed risks, costs and technical readiness.

The found WFIRST’s large-scale imaging capability would “complement” Nasa’s flagship project from 2014, the smaller field-of-view infrared observations from the $5-billion James Webb Space Telescope.

The New Scientist reported that the telescope is based on the design for a joint Nasa /US Department of Energy project called the Joint Dark Energy Mission. It was first conceived in 2003, the mission was set to start in 2009 but has been held up by unrealistic cost estimates and tight budgets.

Experts said the decision to prioritise WFIRST would have a “significant impact” on a similar project, called Euclid, being developed by the European Space Agency.

A Nasa spokesman said it would study the report’s recommendations.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/7948050/Nasa-should-focus-energy-on-new-1bn-telescope-to-find-alien-planets.html

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« Reply #694 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:32am »

Telegraph

David Kelly was not murdered
Suspicious factors surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the weapons inspector, have led the Attorney General to review his case. Andrew Gilligan, who broke the 'sexed up' dossier story, argues that he probably took his own life.

By Andrew Gilligan
Published: 7:12AM BST 16 Aug 2010

Every few months comes the same little media brush fire, the same apologetic calls from the television news people. And just as a lawyer at a dinner table will usually be asked for free legal advice, there is one question I can predict will come up when dining among strangers. With varying emphasis, and varying degrees of subtlety, what my questioners always ask is whether David Kelly was murdered. My answer – no – is seldom popular. I remember giving it to a young colleague of the Parliament Square peace camper, Brian Haw, as we talked in front of what Hello! magazine would call Mr Haw's lovely tent. She instantly produced a megaphone and denounced me to the passing traffic as a despicable Establishment sell-out.

Last week saw a slightly larger brush fire than usual. A new group of doctors echoed what some other medics have said: that the principal cause of death given by the Hutton inquiry, haemorrhage from a severed ulnar artery, was "unsafe". This has put new wind in the murder party's sails – though the doctors themselves, significantly, are careful to avoid direct challenge to the finding of suicide. As the man at the heart of the story, and one of the only people in this debate who has actually met David Kelly, let me explain why I think that David probably did take his own life, and why that finding was one of the few things which Lord Hutton – probably – got right.

I should start, though, by admitting that as well as being horrified at David's death, I was very, very surprised. He didn't strike me as the suicidal type, if there is such a thing. He was well used to confrontation and pressure: he'd been a weapons inspector in Iraq, for goodness' sake. By the day he died, the worst of the pressure was essentially over: Parliament was about to break for the summer, I and the BBC, which I was reporting for at the time, had refused to confirm whether David was my source for the Iraq "dodgy dossier" story, and the battle between Downing Street and the Corporation had reached stalemate.

As well as the doctors' point that David could not have bled to death from cutting an ulnar artery – a small artery which retracts if severed – there were several other apparently suspicious factors about the case. The paramedics who found his body noticed little blood. The pathologist who pronounced the cause of death later had a change of heart. The police found no fingerprints on the knife that David supposedly used to kill himself. The cause of death was rare – David was reportedly the only person in England to die in that way the whole of that year. Operation Mason, the police investigation into his death, started nine hours before he was even reported missing. There was no full inquest, almost unheard of in cases of this kind, and the papers on the death have been sealed for 70 years.

Yet most of these facts turn out to have seemingly plausible explanations.

The pathologist did change his view as to the precise cause of David's death, but still ruled out the possibility that foul play was involved. Thames Valley police have said that the start time of Operation Mason was chosen in retrospect to reflect the period of interest. The absence of fingerprints on the knife may be explained by the fact that the knife handle was reportedly covered in gaffer tape, which does not easily hold fingerprints, or by the fact that it spent the night in the open. Importantly, the knife itself was one that David kept in his study and which had belonged to him from boyhood.

The fact that a cause of death is rare does not mean that it is unheard-of, or impossible. The severing of the ulnar artery, as the doctors concede in their letter, was in fact only one cause of death. The full stated cause of death is actually the combination of the severed artery with two other things: David's long-standing heart condition of coronary artery atherosclerosis, and his swallowing 29 co-proxamol tablets.

There are just as many, if not more, experts who state that this cause is entirely plausible, including, for instance, Professor Robert Forrest, a toxicologist and former president of the Forensic Science Society, who stresses that it was the "interaction" of the three factors that led to the death. Even if the latest set of doctors are right, and the ulnar artery explanation is wrong, it is, as they implicitly concede, a narrow point which does not necessarily cast fresh doubt on the suicide verdict.

more after the jump
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/7947544/David-Kelly-was-not-murdered.html

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« Reply #695 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:36am »

Telegraph

Silk 'invisibility cloak' created by scientists
Scientists have created an "invisibility cloak" - able to bend light around solid objects - out of silk.

By Tom Chivers
Published: 4:12PM BST 12 Aug 2010

At the moment the cloak only works for light outside the visible spectrum, in the terahertz band between radio and infrared. But its developers, at Boston University and Tufts University, believe that it could be made to work at far smaller wavelengths, possibly even including visible light, according to Discovery News.

The researchers hope it will have applications in medical science, as well as opening the possibility of making people or objects invisible.

The "metamaterial" is made of silk covered in tiny gold structures, each a tiny spiral known as a "split ring resonator" or SSR. SSRs have fascinating effects on light - they can absorb, or reflect, all the light at a given wavelength, or bend that light around an object. The silk metamaterial has 10,000 SSRs per square centimetre.

Normally, terahertz waves would pass through silk unaffected. But the new meta-silk resonated when the light struck it.

Since silk is "biocompatible" - it doesn't spark an immune reaction when implanted in the human body - the meta-silk can be used widely in medicine. Fiorenzo Omenetto, one of the Tufts researchers, told Discovery: "This is an unusual angle for a metamaterial because of silk's ability to interface with the human body."

While the researchers say it could be used for Harry Potter-style invisibility cloaks for whole people, the medical angle is its most promising one. Radiologists could cloak organs in the material, allowing them to see past to the hidden parts behind. It could also be used as a blood glucose sensor for diabetes sufferers: as the levels of glucose change, so will the metamaterial. The change can be transmitted as radio (or other) waves and detected by a mobile phone.

Last year, British researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Southampton were given a £4.9 million grant to investigate metamaterials and their possible applications in medicine, defence, security and communication.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/7941236/Silk-invisibility-cloak-created-by-scientists.html

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« Reply #696 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:42am »

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August 16, 1888: Birth of Sci-Fi Publisher Gernsback
By Hugh Hart August 16, 2010 | 7:00 am | Categories: 19th century, Communication, Culture

1888: Hugo Gernsback is born in Luxembourg amid the Victorian era’s embrace of science and technology. He spends his life parlaying his talents as an editor and publisher to produce a body of work so formidable that the World Science Fiction Society will name its revered Hugo Awards after him.

As a child, Gernsback discovered American astronomer Percival Lowell’s writings about canals on Mars, inspiring his love of amazing stories.

Three years after moving to the United States in 1905, Gernsback published a magazine for amateur radio enthusiasts. He then became fascinated with 18th-century adventurer Baron Munchausen and wrote a series of fantastical tales including “Munchausen on the Moon” (1915) and “Munchausen Departs for the Planet Mars” (1915).

After publishing an hugely successful all-fiction issue of his Science and Invention magazine, Gernsback in 1926 poured his passion for science, fantasy, pulp fiction and profits into the debut issue of Amazing Stories.

To hype the new magazine, which included reprinted stories by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells along with new work by H.P. Lovecraft and J.R. R. Tolkien, Gernsback came up with the category of “scientifiction.” He later improved on the term by inventing the phrase “science fiction.”

Gernsback (born Gernsbacher) lost control of Amazing Stories magazine in 1929, but followed during the Depression with Science Wonder Stories. Forced to sell the magazine — later titled Thrilling Wonder Stories — in the late ’30s. Gernsback revisited the genre in 1952 as publisher of Science-Fiction Plus.

Gernsback commonly shares credit with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as the “Father of Science Fiction,” but Lovecraft, griping that he was underpaid, had a less august title for his publisher: “Hugo the Rat.”

Still, Gernsback’s writers gained invaluable exposure through Gernsback’s magazines, because the impresario introduced a marketing stroke of genius: He listed the addresses of writers featured in his magazine. As a result, science fiction fans organized themselves into a social movement that even now transcends the passing fancies of any given year’s best-seller list.

Married three times, Gernsback died in 1967. He was inducted 12 years later into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. An archive of his publications can be found at the Special Collections Research Center of the Syracuse University Library.

http://www.wired.com/thisdayintech/2010/08/0816hugo-gernsback-born

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« Reply #697 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:47am »

LA Times

MEXICO UNDER SIEGE
Under threat from Mexican drug cartels, reporters go silent
Journalists know drug traffickers can easily kidnap or kill them — and get away with it.
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

August 16, 2010

Reporting from Reynosa, Mexico

A new word has been written into the lexicon of Mexico's drug war: narco-censorship.

It's when reporters and editors, out of fear or caution, are forced to write what the traffickers want them to write, or to simply refrain from publishing the whole truth in a country where members of the press have been intimidated, kidnapped and killed.

That big shootout the other day near a Reynosa shopping mall? Convoys of gunmen whizzed through the streets and fired on each other for hours, paralyzing the city. But you won't read about it here in this border city.

Those recent battles between the army and cartel henchmen in Ciudad Juarez? Soldiers engaged "armed civilians," newspapers told their readers.

As the drug war scales new heights of savagery, one of the devastating byproducts of the carnage is the drug traffickers' chilling ability to co-opt underpaid and under-protected journalists — who are haunted by the knowledge that they are failing in their journalistic mission of informing society.

"You love journalism, you love the pursuit of truth, you love to perform a civic service and inform your community. But you love your life more," said an editor here in Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, who, like most journalists interviewed, did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the cartels.

"We don't like the silence. But it's survival."

An estimated 30 reporters have been killed or have disappeared since President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led offensive against powerful drug cartels in December 2006, making Mexico one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the world.

But a ferocious increase in violence, including the July 26 kidnapping of four reporters, has pushed the profession into a crisis never before seen, drawn renewed international attention and spurred fresh activism on the part of Mexican newsmen and women.

The United Nations sent its first such mission to Mexico last week to examine dangers to freedom of expression. On Aug. 7, in an unprecedented display of unity from a normally fractious, competitive bunch, hundreds of Mexican reporters demonstrated throughout the country to demand an end to the killings of their colleagues, and more secure working conditions.

Few killings are ever investigated, and the climate of impunity leads to more bloodshed, says an upcoming report from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"It is not a lack of valor on the part of the journalists. It is a lack of backing," said broadcaster Jaime Aguirre. "If they kill me, nothing happens."

On the popular radio talk show he hosts in Reynosa, Aguirre chooses his words carefully. He often finds himself issuing warnings to the public on which areas of the city to avoid. Listeners don't have to be told why.

It is in Mexico's far-flung states where narco-censorship is most severe.

From the border states of Tamaulipas and Chihuahua and into the central and southern states of Durango and Guerrero, reporters say they are acutely aware that traffickers do not want the local news to "heat the plaza" — to draw attention to their drug production and smuggling and efforts to subjugate the population. Such attention would invite the government to send troops and curtail their business.

And so the journalists pull their punches.

When convoys of narco hit men brazenly turned their guns on army garrisons in Reynosa, trapping soldiers inside, it was front- page news in the Los Angeles Times in April. It went unreported in Reynosa.

After two of his reporters were briefly detained by Zetas paramilitaries later that month in the same region, Ciro Gomez Leyva, head of Milenio television, announced he was imposing a blackout on events in Tamaulipas. "Journalism is dead" in the region, he wrote. The bruised, strangled body of Durango reporter Bladimir Antuna was recovered late last year with a scrawled note attached: "This happened to me for … writing too much."

Contacting reporters in the region can seem a scene out of "The Third Man," with meetings in discreet locations and discussions that involve code: The Zetas are referred to as "the last letter" (of the alphabet), while the Gulf cartel is the "three letters" (CDG — Cartel del Golfo).

Reporters and editors in Tamaulipas and Durango say they routinely receive telephoned warnings when they publish something the traffickers don't like. More often, knowing their publications are being watched and their newsrooms infiltrated, they avoid publishing anything that risks falling into a questionable category.

Or they stick to just-the-facts government bulletins that may confirm an incident but won't offer details.

"If there's nothing official, we don't print it," said an editor from a northern newspaper. "It makes me very angry. How can I bend to the demands of those people? But I have to calculate the risk."

The journalists also keep an eye on certain websites known to have affiliation with drug cartels: If they see that a shootout or a grenade attack is being reported, they know it's OK to publish the same information.

That's why the Reynosa shootout two weeks ago wasn't reported. But a car bomb at police headquarters in the Tamaulipas state capital, Ciudad Victoria, two days later got front-page play because, editors say, the dominant Gulf wanted the rival Zetas paramilitaries (presumed authors of the bomb) to look bad.

Not that regional Mexican papers are squeamish. They will publish any number of grisly photographs of severed heads and battered corpses dangling from bridges. But not information that will offend the cartel in charge.

Social media networks such as Twitter have filled some of the breach, with residents frantically sending danger alerts. And a secretive "narco blog" has started posting numerous videos of henchmen and their victims, no matter how gruesome. But, residents say, the social media too have been usurped by traffickers, who use the system to spread rumors and stoke panic.

In Durango, where more newsmen were killed in 2009 than in any other state, broadcast reporter Ruben Cardenas said journalists could no longer do their job. "It is disinformation. It is a disservice to society," Cardenas told The Times late last year.

A few weeks later, when The Times ventured into the Durango city of Gomez Palacio to report on the kidnapping and slaying of Los Angeles civic leader Bobby Salcedo, local Mexican reporters initially shared enthusiasm for the story. But after a couple of days of publishing reports, employees at one newspaper said they were ordered, presumably by Salcedo's killers, to cease. The news, attracting attention in Los Angeles and Washington, was "heating the plaza."

Durango was also the scenario of the July 26 abductions. Four journalists were covering disturbances at a Gomez Palacio prison where it had just been revealed that the warden was allowing inmates to go out at night on killing rampages.

The reporters' employers received instructions to broadcast homemade videos from one cartel that linked its rival to corrupt cops. The videos showed police who had apparently been abducted and were "confessing" at gunpoint.

Journalists around Mexico mobilized like never before, spreading the word, demanding action from authorities and staging demonstrations. Eventually the reporters were freed. Blood still seeping from his scalp, a bruised Alejandro Hernandez spoke of the ordeal: five days of torture, beatings with a plank, threats of an ugly death.

A happy ending? The men were rescued or released only after their news outlets met the traffickers' demands and aired the cartel videos. It was the latest twist: news coverage as ransom.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-mexico-narco-censorship-20100816,0,4152944.story

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« Reply #698 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:51am »

New York Review of Books

Last Chance for Pakistan
Ahmed Rashid

Though it has received only moderate attention in the western press, the torrential flooding of large swaths of Pakistan since late July may be the most catastrophic natural disaster to strike the country in half a century. But even greater than the human cost of this devastating event are the security challenges it poses. Coming at a time of widespread unrest, growing Taliban extremism, and increasingly shaky civilian government, the floods could lead to the gravest security crisis the country—and the region—has faced. Unless the international community takes immediate action to provide major emergency aid and support, the country risks turning into what until now has remained only a grim, but remote possibility—a failed state with nuclear weapons.

Since the upper reaches of the Indus and other rivers in Northern Pakistan first flooded their banks over three weeks ago, the floods have spread to many other parts of the country, submerging dozens of villages, killing thousands, uprooting some 20 million people, and leaving millions of poor children and infants at terrible risk of exposure to water-borne diseases. But the next few months could be even worse, as the collapse of governance and growing desperation of flooded areas leads to increasing social and ethnic tensions, terrible food shortages, and the threat that large parts of the country, now cut off from Islamabad, will be taken over by the Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups.

A key part of the security problem lies in the already precarious situation of the regions most affected. The floods and heavy rain have caused the worst damage in the poorest and least literate areas of the country where extremists and separatist movements thrive: this includes the northern region, near Afghanistan, but also parts of Balochistan and Sindh provinces in the south. By contrast, central Punjab, the country’s richest region, with incomes and literacy about double that of other parts of the country, has been relatively unscathed by the disaster. The longstanding resentment by ethnic groups in the smaller provinces against Punjab is thus likely to increase.

The situation in the north is particularly critical. Now inundated by floodwaters, the poverty stricken North Western Frontier Province—now officially known as Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP)—is a haven for both the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. Millions of people have lost their homes and taken flight only a few months after many of them had returned following a successful offensive against militants by the Pakistan army.

In the Swat valley, where the army had flushed out extremists only a year ago, every single bridge has been destroyed and roads washed away. Across the province hundreds of miles of electricity pylons and gas lines have been ripped out, power stations flooded, and livestock and standing crops decimated by as much as 50 percent. All this will dramatically loosen what little control the state had managed to sustain over outlying areas—especially those bordering Afghanistan, which could now be quickly captured by local Taliban.

Another major recruitment center for extremists are the rural plains of southern Punjab and northern Sind, which suffer from underdevelopment and widespread poverty. Now, these regions too are drowned in water. Lacking any prospects for meaningful employment or education, more young men from these regions will join the militants, who are already proclaiming that the floods represent God’s wrath against the government.

In Balochistan, the large province in southwestern Pakistan that skirts Afghanistan’s southern border, the floods have deepened an already existing crisis. The country’s poorest region, Balochistan, has long hosted a separatist insurgency as well as Afghan Taliban bases (Quetta, the provincial capital, has been a haven for a number of senior Taliban leaders). Now, flash floods have destroyed infrastructure and what little was working in the region’s below-subsistence economy; the state’s fragile control of the region has become even more tenuous, as Baloch separatists, blaming the government for poor relief efforts, are urging a stepped up struggle for independence. (The last time such major floods hit the country in the late 1960s, the inadequacy of the government’s response led in part to the secession of east Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.)

Meanwhile, the floods have had little effect on the rampant violence by extremists and other groups that has been occurring across the country. The Pakistani Taliban continue to carry out suicide bombings and have vowed to wipe out the country’s government leaders while in Karachi, inter-ethnic violence between political parties representing the Pashtun, Sindhi and Urdu speaking communities has resulted in some 100 deaths in the past four weeks. Since the flooding began, the Taliban have also been seeking to prevent Pakistani non-governmental organizations from carrying out relief work by threatening their workers, while encouraging militant groups who have set up their own relief camps to expand.

Much now depends on the ability of the government and its foreign allies to bring relief to flood victims. Tens of thousands of Pakistani troops and virtually the army’s entire helicopter fleet are now involved in the effort. But its resources are way overstretched, and for months to come the army is unlikely to be in a position to even hold the areas along the Afghan border that it has recently won back from the militants, let alone initiate any new campaigns against the Taliban.

That means the war in Afghanistan is about to become even more bloody. US and NATO efforts to secure southern Afghanistan and new US troop deployments in eastern Afghanistan will be affected, as more militants come across the border.

With the chronic shortage of foodstuffs and the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan, food prices have already doubled, raising the prospect of social tensions and even food riots. Amid overbearing heat and humidity, electricity production is down by one third across the country, leaving those rural areas where power lines are still standing without electricity for up to 18 hours a day.

So far the international aid response, apart from the US and Britain has been next to pathetic. The US is providing some US $71 million and has sent 19 helicopters from Afghanistan and from US carriers stationed off the coast of Karachi. Britain has given US $31 million. But as international aid organizations like Oxfam have complained, donations from the European Union, NATO countries, and especially the Islamic world have been negligible. The UN appeal for US $459 million to cover immediate relief for the next ninety days is not even half met yet.

Once there is sufficient humanitarian relief, the most urgent need is for donors to rebuild bridges, restore power, and reopen roads, especially in the strategic KP province. Pakistan’s coffers are empty and the country is entirely dependent on a US $11.3 billion loan from the IMF. If it is to deliver any kind of effective response to the crisis, Pakistan’s government must be bolstered by the international community.

For its part, India has failed to respond to the crisis, and relations between the two countries remain locked in bitter animosity, especially as India blames this summer’s uprising in Indian Kashmir on Pakistan. Major international pressure is needed for both countries to sort out their acute differences over the control of their common river systems and the building of new dams on both sides of the border. (The sources of many of the rivers that flow into Pakistan are in Indian-controlled territory either in the Himalayas or Kashmir. There have been recent rise in tensions with Pakistan accusing India of building unauthorized dams on these rivers upstream.) Indian relief goods, cheaper food, and construction materials should be immediately allowed to enter Pakistan.

more after the jump
http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/aug/16/last-chance-pakistan/

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« Reply #699 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 08:55am »

Stars and Stripes

Does NORAD have a "WarGames" computer?
By Jeff Schogol
Published: August 16, 2010

If you’re old enough to remember the last decade of the Cold War, you’re probably familiar with the 1983 Matthew Broderick movie “WarGames,” a heartwarming tale about a computer that learns the futility of nuclear war by playing tic-tac-toe.

In the movie, the North American Aerospace Defense Command puts a computer in charge of all of its nuclear missiles. Of course, the computer tries to start a war with the Soviet Union.

Almost 30 years later, Colorado-based NORAD still gets questions about whether it has a “War Operations Plan Response” computer, aka the WOPR.

“Some people will ask kind of jokingly,” said NORAD spokeswoman Stacey Knott.

But there are other people are more serious because they aren’t familiar with what the military does, “So they came back and they almost ask it apologetically,” she said.

Knott lets people know that things are a little different than in the movie.

NORAD does have an extensive computer system, but the computers do not have control over missiles or aircraft, nor do they think and learn, Knott said.

The actual computers don’t have tic tac toe either.

“Most of our personal work stations up there have Windows computers, but unfortunately the government usually comes and takes off all the games,” she said.

And the coup de grace: No one at NORAD says “Confidence is high” when tracking incoming missiles.

“If the team gets a reading, they call to see if the sensor that picked it up is operating properly and is getting a ‘valid’ reading,” Knott said in an e-mail.

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: There is no supercomputer inside Cheyenne Mountain that controls nuclear missiles. Matthew Broderick’s legacy is a lie.

UPDATE ON KANDAHAR POO POND: Shortly after The Rumor Doctor debunked the legend that a Special Forces soldier swam in the cesspool at Kandahar Air Field to win a bet, a reader said the person who took the plunge was actually a Romanian man who won $2,000 by swimming in the poo pond, but he had to go home with serious health problems.

But a spokeswoman for Kandahar Air Field poo-pooed that tale too.

“We have checked out this story with both the Romanian staff in [Regional Command-South] and the Romanian [Defense Ministry],” said Cmdr. Amanda E. Peterseim. “There is no truth to this rumor.”

http://www.stripes.com/blogs/the-rumor-doctor/the-rumor-doctor-1.104348/does-norad-have-a-wargames-computer-1.114848

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« Reply #700 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 09:02am »

Honolulu Star Advertiser

Military adopts new
media

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 15, 2010

There's a scene in "From Here to Eternity" in which
bugler Montgomery Clift broadcasts a mournful taps at
Schofield Barracks with the aid of a megaphone.

It was a message within a message. Clift's character
was lamenting the loss of a buddy, and the bugle call
then -- as now -- signals "lights out" at the end of the
day.

These days, though, mass communication with the
troops is more likely to come via cell phone text,
Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

The Pentagon is making a big push into new media
and social media, and the old bugles and bulletin
boards have given ways to blogs, BlackBerries and
tweets.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has a Facebook page.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
tweets out short messages.

Every morning at 6, before he heads out for "PT"
(physical training), Schofield Barracks commander Maj.
Gen. Bernard Champoux checks the 25th Infantry
Division Facebook page and his commander's blog.

Champoux said it's a great way to check on his
soldiers and their families, their concerns, mainland
families with a relative in Hawaii, and Schofield
veterans.

"It's a 24-hour ability to communicate with an
extended audience," Champoux said. For younger
soldiers, he added, "that's how they communicate."

Spc. Michael Ballou, a 22-year-old soldier with the
25th Infantry Division Band, estimates he sometimes
sends out as many as 100 texts to other soldiers in a
single day while figuring out band logistics during
busy performance times.

"If I didn't have the phone numbers of all my NCOICs
(noncommissioned officers in charge) on my cell
phone, I probably wouldn't survive," the Atlanta man
said.

Champoux, who took command of the 25th Division in
February, said in the future he'll only contract for cell
phones that have texting capability.

The Army still uses bulletin boards for messages,
Champoux said, "but what are our soldiers doing?
They are walking right past them

more after the jump
http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/20100815_Military_adopts_new_media.html

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« Reply #701 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 09:18am »

About.com

When Bigfoot Attacks
Astonishing tales of threats, assaults and abductions
By Stephen Wagner, About.com Guide

The existence of Bigfoot (or Sasquatch or many of the other names assigned to this unknown primate) is not yet a proved fact, simply because one has not been captured - dead or alive. There is, however, a lot of good circumstantial evidence in the form of hundreds of eyewitness accounts, footprints, hair samples and, less convincing, a few fuzzy or contested photos.

You may have heard or read about many of the sightings of the elusive "hairy biped," but less known are the "close encounters of the third kind" (contact) or even the fourth kind (abduction) with Sasquatch. Yes, people have reportedly been physically attacked by Bigfoot - and even abducted by the creature. Why are these stories less known? Probably because they are so fantastic that most of these accounts are not taken very seriously; even those who think Sasquatch exists look upon these cases with a highly skeptical eye.

That's not to say they are not true, only that they have very little or no evidence to back them up. That said, here are some first-hand accounts of... when Bigfoot attacks!

1902 - Chesterfield, Idaho. A group of people enjoying a winter's day skating were suddenly terrorized by a hairy monster brandishing a wooden club. The witnesses said the creature stood about eight feet tall. Later, four-toed footprints were found that measured 22 inches long and 7 inches wide. Bigfoot indeed! No one was injured in the attack.

1912 - New South Wales, Australia. A surveyor named Charles Harper was camping with several colleagues on Currockbilly Mountain. One evening, as the men sat sound their campfire, they became increasingly unnerved by the strange sounds they heard coming from the woods. To help allay their fears, they piled more wood on their fire. The increased light revealed that something unexpected had invaded their camp. "A huge man-like animal stood erect not twenty yards from the fire, growling," Harper later told a newspaper, "and thumping his breast with his huge hand-like paws." Harper estimated that the creature stood about 5'8" to 5'10" tall and was "covered with long, brownish-red hair, which shook with every quivering movement of his body." To say the least, the men were terrified. One even fainted. For several minutes, the creature continued to growl and make threatening gestures at the men, then turned and disappeared into the forest dark.

1924 - Ape Canyon, Mount St. Helens, Washington. Fred Beck and several other prospectors were puzzled by very large footprints they found in the canyon - until they encountered the beast that made them. They saw a large, ape-like creature peering from behind a tree, watching them. One of the miners leveled his rifle at the creature, shot and possibly grazed it in the head. It ran off out of sight. Later, another creature was seen by Beck. As it stood on the edge of a canyon wall, Beck shot it in the back. It fell, irretrievably, into the canyon. These acts of violence by the humans was not to go unavenged by the Sasquatch. That night, the miners' cabin was attacked by at least two of the primates. For five hours, they pounded on the door and walls, and hurled rocks onto the roof in an attempt to break in. Fortunately, the windowless cabin, built to withstand harsh winters, kept the Sasquatch from entering. As dawn approached, the creatures abandoned their assault. When the miners finally ventured outside, they found numerous Bigfoot prints all around the cabin, and a strip of wood gouged out from between two logs. (There is some evidence that this "attack" may have been a hoax, while others contend that it is true.)

Next page: Bigfoot abductions http://paranormal.about.com/cs/bigfootsasquatch/a/aa033103_2.htm

http://paranormal.about.com/cs/bigfootsasquatch/a/aa033103.htm?nl=1

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xx Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #702 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 11:27am »

on Aug 15th, 2010, 5:13pm, WingsofCrystal wrote:
Phil! I was about to start looking for you. You have us spoiled now and we expect a holler from you every day. grin
Crystal

Hello Crystal!

Well, in that case I don't want to disappoint you. grin

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Skipping through the news this caught my eye:
http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/Zurich-Street-Parade/ss/events/wl/081410zurichparade
It's a slideshow of a kind of parade in Zurich, Switzerland. Just thought that these folks were dressed up in such a weird style that it would be easy for an alien to walk among humans without being recognized. grin rolleyes
« Last Edit: Aug 16th, 2010, 11:28am by philliman » User IP Logged

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xx Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #703 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 11:45am »

Oh! wow Philliman, those daisies are so beautiful!!!

Hi Crys

Thanks for posting the bigfoot stories... I started reading them then followed links and still reading.... laugh Can't see that I am going to get much sleep tonight. I am hooked on reading BF stories... smiley

Have a great day.
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« Reply #704 on: Aug 16th, 2010, 12:10pm »

WOW!!!
Thanks Phil!!! cheesy
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