Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7410 on: Oct 3rd, 2012, 09:15am »
DHS ‘fusion centers’ portrayed as pools of ineptitude, civil liberties intrusions
By Robert O’Harrow Jr. Published: October 2
An initiative aimed at improving intelligence sharing has done little to make the country more secure, despite as much as $1.4 billion in federal spending, according to a two-year examination by Senate investigators.
The nationwide network of offices known as “fusion centers” was launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to address concerns that local, state and federal authorities were not sharing information effectively about potential terrorist threats.
But after nine years — and regular praise from officials at the Department of Homeland Security — the 77 fusion centers have become pools of ineptitude, waste and civil liberties intrusions, according to a scathing 141-page report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations.
The creation and operation of the fusion centers were promoted by the administration of President George W. Bush and later the Obama administration as essential weapons in the fight to build a nationwide network that would keep the country safe from terrorism. The idea was to promote increased collaboration and cooperation among all levels of law enforcement across the country.
But the report documents spending on items that did little to help share intelligence, including gadgets such as “shirt button” cameras, $6,000 laptops and big-screen televisions. One fusion center spent $45,000 on a decked-out SUV that a city official used for commuting.
“In reality, the Subcommittee investigation found that the fusion centers often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever,” the report said.
The bipartisan report, released by subcommittee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking minority member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), portrays the fusion center system as ineffective and criticizes the Department of Homeland Security for poor supervision.
In a response Tuesday, the department condemned the report and defended the fusion centers, saying the Senate investigators relied on out-of-date data. The Senate investigators examined fusion center reports in 2009 and 2010 and looked at activity, training and policies over nine years, according to the report.
The statement also said the Senate investigators misunderstood the role of fusion centers, “which is to provide state and local law enforcement analytic support in furtherance of their day-to-day efforts to protect local communities from violence, including that associated with terrorism.”
The DHS statement also said that all of the questioned expenses were allowable under the rules.
Department officials have defended the fusion centers in the face of past criticism from the news media and internal reviews. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and other senior officials have praised the centers as centerpieces of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.
Mike Sena, president of the National Fusion Center Association, an advocacy organization, called the report unfair. Sena, who manages the center in the San Francisco Bay area, said fusion centers have processed more than 22,000 “suspicious activity reports” that have triggered 1,000 federal inquiries or investigations. He said they also have shared with the Terrorist Screening Center some 200 “pieces of data” that provided “actionable intelligence.”
The Senate report challenged the value of the training and much of the information produced by the centers. It said that DHS analysts assigned to the fusion centers received just five days of basic training for intelligence reporting. Sena said they received an array of other training as well.
Some analysts at the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which received the fusion center reports, were found to be so unproductive that supervisors imposed quotas for reports, knowing those quotas would diminish the quality of the intelligence, according to the Senate report. Many of those analysts at the DHS intelligence office were contractors.
Investigators found instances in which the analysts used intelligence about U.S. citizens that may have been gathered illegally. In one case, a fusion center in California wrote a report on a notorious gang, the Mongols Motorcycle Club, that had distributed leaflets telling its members to behave when they got stopped by police. The leaflet said members should be courteous, control their emotions and, if drinking, have a designated driver.
“There is nothing illegal or even remotely objectionable [described] in this report,” one supervisor wrote about the draft before killing it. “The advice given to the groups’ members is protected by the First Amendment.”
Financial questions were pervasive, with the report saying oversight has been so lax that department officials do not know exactly how much has been spent on the centers. The official estimates varied between $289 million and $1.4 billion.
A DHS official, who insisted on not being identified because he was not authorized to talk to the news media, acknowledged that the department does not closely track the money but said it conducts audits of the fusion spending. The official said that just under half of the fusion centers’ budgets comes from the department.
In the statement, the department said its Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the grants, provides “wide latitude” for states to decide how to spend the money.
“All of the expenditures questioned in the report are allowable under the grant program guidance, whether or not they are connected with a fusion center,” the statement said.
The Senate report said local and state officials entrusted with the fusion center grants sometimes spent lavishly. More than $2 million was spent on a center for Philadelphia that never opened. In Ohio, officials used the money to buy rugged laptop computers and then gave them to a local morgue. San Diego officials bought 55 flat-screen televisions to help them collect “open-source intelligence” — better known as cable television news.
Senate investigators repeatedly questioned the quality of the intelligence reports. A third or more of the reports intended for officials in Washington were discarded because they lacked useful information, had been drawn from media accounts or involved potentially illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens, according to the Senate report.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7411 on: Oct 3rd, 2012, 09:20am »
Increase in Allergies Is Not from Being Too Clean, Just Losing Touch With 'Old Friends'
ScienceDaily (Oct. 2, 2012)
— A new scientific report out October 3 from the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH)[i] dismantles the myth that the epidemic rise in allergies in recent years has happened because we're living in sterile homes and overdoing hygiene.
But far from saying microbial exposure is not important, the report concludes that losing touch with microbial 'old friends' may be a fundamental factor underlying rises in an even wider array of serious diseases. As well as allergies, there are numerous other 'chronic inflammatory diseases' (CIDs) such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis which seem to stem from impaired regulation of our immune systems. Deficiencies in microbial exposure could be key to rises in both allergies and CIDs.
This detailed review of evidence, accumulated over more than 20 years of research since the 'hygiene hypothesis' was first proposed, now confirms that the original notion is not correct.
Presenting the report findings in Liverpool at Infection Prevention 2012, the national conference of the UK and Ireland's Infection Prevention Society, co-author of the report and Honorary Professor at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Sally Bloomfield[ii] said: "The underlying idea that microbial exposure is crucial to regulating the immune system is right. But the idea that children who have fewer infections, because of more hygienic homes, are then more likely to develop asthma and other allergies does not hold up."
Another author of the report, Dr Rosalind Stanwell-Smith, also from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine[iii] said: "Allergies and chronic inflammatory diseases are serious health issues and it's time we recognised that simplistically talking about home and personal cleanliness as the cause of the problem is ill-advised, because it's diverting attention from finding workable solutions and the true, probably much more complex, causes." If worrying about 'being too clean' results in people needlessly exposing themselves and their children to pathogens that can make them ill, this would clearly be dangerous.
Professor Graham Rook, also co-author of the report,[iv] who developed the 'Old Friends' version of the hypothesis, said: "The rise in allergies and inflammatory diseases seems at least partly due to gradually losing contact with the range of microbes our immune systems evolved with, way back in the Stone Age.[v] Only now are we seeing the consequences of this, doubtless also driven by genetic predisposition and a range of factors in our modern lifestyle -- from different diets and pollution to stress and inactivity. It seems that some people now have inadequately regulated immune systems that are less able to cope with these other factors."
Dr Stanwell Smith explains the probable reasons why this has happened: "Since the 1800s, when allergies began to be more noticed, the mix of microbes we've lived with, and eaten, drunk and breathed in has been steadily changing. Some of this has come through measures to combat infectious diseases that used to take such a heavy toll in those days -- in London, 1 in 3 deaths was a child under 5. These changes include clean drinking water, safe food, sanitation and sewers, and maybe overuse of antibiotics.[vi] Whilst vital for protecting us from infectious diseases, these will also have inadvertently altered exposure to the 'microbial friends' which inhabit the same environments."
But we've also lost touch with our "old friends" in other ways: our modern homes have a different and less diverse mix of microbes than rural homes of the past. This is nothing to do with cleaning habits: even the cleanest-looking homes still abound with bacteria, viruses, fungi, moulds and dust mites. [vii] It's mainly because microbes come in from outside and the microbes in towns and cities are very different from those on farms and in the countryside.
"The good news," says Professor Bloomfield "is that we aren't faced with a stark choice between running the risk of infectious disease, or suffering allergies and inflammatory diseases. The threat of infectious disease is now rising because of antibiotic resistance, global mobility and an ageing population, so good hygiene is even more vital to all of us." [viii]
"How we can begin to reverse the trend in allergies and CID isn't yet clear," says Professor Rook.[ix] "There are lots of ideas being explored but relaxing hygiene won't reunite us with our Old Friends -- just expose us to new enemies like E. coli O104."
"One important thing we can do," says Professor Bloomfield, "is to stop talking about 'being too clean' and get people thinking about how we can safely reconnect with the right kind of dirt."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7412 on: Oct 4th, 2012, 08:10am »
Merchants bring down shutters in Tehran bazaar after clashes
By Marcus George and Yeganeh Torbati Thu Oct 4, 2012 8:01am EDT
DUBAI (Reuters) - Shops in Tehran's Grand Bazaar stayed shut and police patrolled the area on Thursday as authorities struggled to restore normalcy a day after security forces clashed with anti-government protesters angered by the collapse of the currency.
Traders from the bazaar, whose merchants supported Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, told Reuters by telephone that most stores were closed because their owners had stayed away for safety reasons.
On Wednesday, riot police scuffled with demonstrators and arrested money changers in the area during protests triggered by the plunge of the Iranian rial, which has lost about a third of its value against the dollar over the past 10 days.
Pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mounted as business associations blamed him for much of the country's economic crisis, which has been fuelled by Western sanctions imposed over Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Associations representing production, distribution and service sectors said Ahmadinejad's administration had devastated the economy with mistaken policy decisions, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Thursday.
But in a sign that the protests still do not threaten Iran's Islamic system of government or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a statement by the associations stressed that "they continue to adhere to the system and the revolution", Mehr said.
The associations agreed that the Grand Bazaar, one of the capital's main shopping areas, would reopen on Saturday in the presence of security forces, Mehr reported.
Ahmadinejad also came under fire from enemies in parliament. The head of parliament's committee for social affairs, Abdulreza Azizi, criticized him for insisting that currency speculators, not his own government's policies, had caused the rial's tumble.
The rial has lost about two-thirds of its value against the dollar since June last year as the sanctions have slashed Iran's earnings from oil exports. The currency's losses have accelerated in the past 10 days after a failed government attempt to stabilize it with a new foreign exchange centre.
The slide has cut living standards, forced Iran to reduce its imports and fuelled job losses in the industrial sector. It has also boosted inflation, which Steve Hanke, an economics professor at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, said had now become hyperinflation.
The government officially puts the annual inflation rate at around 25 percent but Hanke estimated that in the past 10 days, prices in Iran had started rising at a rate which would mean 50-60 percent inflation in a single month.
This is "throwing a monkey-wrench into the stability of the economy. Iran is really getting buffeted around," he said.
One single parent contacted by Reuters in Tehran said she had been unable to buy meat for her two small children for the past two months because of soaring prices. An elderly resident said pharmacies in the city had stopped stocking his German medicine for Alzheimer's disease a few weeks ago. The residents declined to be named because of political sensitivities.
Free-market trading in the rial appears to have almost ground to a halt because of the immense volatility and the government's assault on money changers, traders said.
Iranian media reported that Ahmadinejad had met economic ministers on Wednesday and issued orders on controlling the currency market, but they did not say what those orders were.
Hanke said that if the government was determined to ride out the economic turmoil, it could probably do so for some time.
But the involvement of the bazaar in this week's demonstrations could signal a change of political wind in Tehran. Merchants there and in other major cities were largely absent in the pro-democracy protests that followed Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009.
"Up to now, the bazaar has been a bulwark of support for the state," said Shaul Bakhash, an Iran historian at George Mason University in the United States.
The protests, he said, "could be signs that the merchant and shopkeeper community have lost patience with the government and its handling of the dollar crisis the country is facing."
Some analysts therefore think Khamenei could reshuffle the government to placate public opinion - and conceivably allow Ahmadinejad's old rival Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, known as a pragmatist, to regain influence.
Ahmadinejad has been greatly weakened after a public dispute with Khamenei last year and by law cannot run again for president in elections scheduled for June 2013.
If the government can find ways to deploy its financial resources more effectively, it has a good chance of stabilizing and even strengthening the rial, some analysts believe.
(Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian; Writing by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Giles Elgood)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7413 on: Oct 4th, 2012, 08:15am »
Oct. 4, 1958: ‘Comets’ Debut Trans-Atlantic Jet Age By Jason Paur October 4, 2010 | 7:00 am Categories: 20th century, Transportation
Photo: BOAC DeHavilland Comet, 1960
1958: Two DeHavilland Comets depart London and New York, each bound for the other city. Flying for the British Overseas Airways Corporation, the two aircraft complete the first trans-Atlantic jet passenger service, dramatically reducing the travel time between the United States and Europe.
Jet airliners had been around since the Comet first carried passengers from London to Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1952. But those early jets were very thirsty for fuel compared to today’s airliners, and long routes required several stops.
However, Boeing and Douglas began to develop jet airliners of their own, and the competition to increase the range of the speedy new airplanes was heating up. It was clear by 1958 that a trans-Atlantic jet service was on the horizon, and several airlines were preparing to be the first to make the historic flight.
Pan American had ordered Comets from DeHavilland, but a series of well-publicized crashes after the jets entered service had the company rethinking its jet strategy. Pan Am President Juan Trippe desperately wanted to offer trans-Atlantic jet service, and with the Comet no longer on the order book, he managed to get the two U.S. aircraft makers into a competition to build a jet capable of the nonstop crossing.
In the meantime the British-made Comets’ problem of metal fatigue leading to cracked fuselages had been fixed. BOAC was finally clear to expand their use.
When Boeing introduced its 707 model, Pan Am had the airplane it needed to begin offering flights between the United States and Europe. Juan Trippe touted the trans-Atlantic flights as a new era in travel, and the first Pan Am flight between New York and London was made with a Boeing 707 on Oct. 26, 1958.
Unfortunately for Trippe, trans-Atlantic jet service was old news. BOAC had made the first-ever flights three weeks earlier, using the DeHavilland Comet 4, an upgraded version of the original.
The Oct. 4 westbound flight had to stop in Newfoundland to refuel, but was able to complete the London–New York route in 10 hours, 22 minutes. The eastbound flight was able to take advantage of friendly tailwinds and made the trip to London in a record-breaking 6 hours, 11 minutes. Propeller planes were taking more than 14 hours to make the multistop trip between the two continents.
With the British beating the Americans to making the first crossing, the Comet received a less-than-friendly welcome in New York. According to one of the passengers on the trip, they were booed as they disembarked and walked towards the terminal.
In the end, the Comet with its limited number of seats lost out to the 707. BOAC went on to fly the 707 on its own trans-Atlantic flights. The airline eventually became British Airways through a merger and continues flying the Boeing 747 between London and several U.S. cities every day.
Today a massive fleet of aircraft completes about 600 nonstop flights between Europe and the United States every day.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7414 on: Oct 4th, 2012, 08:18am »
A Complete Solution for Oil-Spill Cleanup ScienceDaily (Oct. 3, 2012) — Scientists are describing what may be a "complete solution" to cleaning up oil spills -- a superabsorbent material that sops up 40 times its own weight in oil and then can be shipped to an oil refinery and processed to recover the oil. T. C. Mike Chung and Xuepei Yuan point out that current methods for coping with oil spills like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster are low-tech, decades-old and have many disadvantages. Corncobs, straw and other absorbents, for instance, can hold only about 5 times their own weight and pick up water, as well as oil. Those materials then become industrial waste that must be disposed of in special landfills or burned. Their solution is a polymer material that transforms an oil spill into a soft, solid oil-containing gel. One pound of the material can recover about 5 gallons of crude oil. The gel is strong enough to be collected and transported. Then, it can be converted to a liquid and refined like regular crude oil. That oil would be worth $15 when crude oil sells for $100 a barrel. "Overall, this cost-effective new polyolefin oil-SAP technology shall dramatically reduce the environmental impacts from oil spills and help recover one of our most precious natural resources," the authors said. Their article on the material appears in ACS' journal Energy & Fuels. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121003150906.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fmatter_energy+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Matter+%26+Energy+News%29
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7415 on: Oct 4th, 2012, 08:18am »
Warning: Genetically Modified Humans By Zaria Gorvett October 4, 2012
ANATOLIA, 9,000BC – The rising sun advanced over the hills, engulfing the arid land in a blaze of warmth. Below the amber sky lay a patchwork of wheat fields, in which a scattering of stooped figures silently harvested their crops.
Later, their harvest would be scrutinised, and only the largest grains selected for planting in the autumn.
A revolution was occurring. For the first time in 3.6 billion years, life had subverted the evolutionary process and began to steer it not with natural selection, but artificial selection. Selection pressures became synonymous with the needs of the architects; the farmers. The technique led to a widespread transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture, a shift that would transform human culture and lay the foundations for the first civilisations. Moreover, in their efforts to permanently remodel the characteristics of a species, early farmers were pioneers of genetic modification.
The modification of plants would later be followed by the domestication of animals, and perhaps eventually, human beings.
From the promotion of eugenics to justify genocide in Nazi Germany, to the mass-produced and homogenous population of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian future in the novel ‘Brave New World’, to ‘Frankenfood’, genetic engineering has amassed a reputation as a treacherous pursuit. However, a recent development appears to have slipped under the public radar: human pre-natal diagnosis. Screening foetal genomes to eliminate genetic ‘defects’ may lead to incremental changes in the human genetic reservoir, a permanent shift in our characteristics and eventually, self-domestication.
The technique involves testing for diseases in a human embryo or foetus, and may be performed to determine if it will be aborted, or in high-risk pregnancies, to enable the provision of immediate medical treatment on delivery. Until recently, pre-natal screening required invasive procedures such as amniocentesis, in which the fluid from the sac surrounding the foetus, the amnion, is sampled and the DNA examined for genetic abnormalities. The procedure can only be performed after the 15th week of pregnancy, and carries a 1% risk of miscarriage and the possibility of complications. In the light of such limitations and risks, the technique hasn’t gained widespread popularity.
However, a research group based at the University of Washington in Seattle has developed an alternative. Their simple test can be performed weeks earlier than current pre-natal screening, and crucially, requires only a maternal blood sample and DNA from both parents. The technique exploits the fragments of foetal DNA in the mother’s blood plasma, which can be strung together by sequencing each nucleotide many times, and then differentiated from maternal and paternal DNA by statistical comparison. It’s quick, harmless, and may soon become widely available. Therein lies the problem. Such a tool is a powerful new route gleaning information about unborn offspring. The object of the exercise: to identify foetuses with the earmarks of genetic disease as candidates for abortion.
Inevitably, the technique is vulnerable to abuse and will empower parents to discriminate the characteristics of their progeny pre-emptively, in a step towards ‘designer babies’. Nevertheless, there is a more immediate concern. Screening for inheritable disorders requires knowledge of their genetic basis, which can be dangerously precarious. Some conditions, such as Down’s syndrome; characterised by the presence of an extra chromosome, are glaringly obvious. Others have more subtle and complex genetic origins. Just as the invention of vaccines to prevent infectious diseases was followed by attempts at total eradication, our efforts to eliminate genetic characteristics may have permanent consequences.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has already been singled out as a potential target for the screening technology. The disorder, which is characterised by difficulties in communication and social interaction, and repetitive or stereotyped behaviours and interests, has a strong but elusive genetic basis. Intriguingly, there has been much speculation that the genes involved in the development of ASD may be linked to mathematical and scientific ability.
The theory has roots in the overlap between certain useful aptitudes in technical professions, and behaviour typical of ASD. An obsessive attention to detail, the ability to understand predictable rule- based systems, ‘systemising’, and a narrow range of interests, are traits characteristic of both groups. Professor Baron Cohen of the University of Cambridge is a strong proponent of the idea, and has suggested that scientist couples are more likely to have children with the disorder. It’s a compelling idea with intuitive plausibility, but the evidence isn’t there (yet). Until we know better, perhaps restraint is needed in eliminating these potentially important genes from our gene pool. There has been speculation that Einstein and Newton were ‘on the spectrum’- what if we inadvertently ‘cured’ the future world of similar talent?
Will our descendants be less than human? Another candidate for remedy with reproductive technology is schizophrenia. The disorder affects cognition, and can lead to chronic problems with emotional responsiveness. The 1% prevalence of schizophrenia makes it an apt target for prevention. However, the globally consistent and high incidence of this disease may be an indicator of its association with advantageous genetic characteristics. The ‘social brain hypothesis’, the main theory to explain the evolution of schizophrenia, suggests that the human brain evolved to select for genes associated with schizophrenia in a trade for higher order cognitive traits. These include language and the ability to interpret the thoughts and emotions of others. Schizophrenia is the cost that humans pay for being able to communicate, and as such, the genes responsible may be an essential component of the human gene pool. As with ASD, the elimination of the disease may have unintended consequences, and permanently alter the social dynamics within our species.
This mechanism, termed a ‘heterozygote advantage’, can arise from the benefits of carrying different forms of a gene, as opposed to two of the same variant, or ‘alleles’. The phenomenon has been proposed for a wide variety of genetic diseases; however usefulness is often dependent on environmental context. Because human lifestyles have diversified to such an extent from those of our ancestors, certain advantages may be outdated. The malaria protection conferred by carrying a single sickle-cell gene is hardly worth the risk of debilitating anaemia if you end up with two- especially in a modern world where anti-malarial medication is widely available. The systematic eradication of this disorder, and many others, will be a welcome and significant medical advancement. But caution is needed.
Following a recent project to build a comprehensive map of the functional elements in the human genome, ENCODE, a function was assigned to 80% of our DNA sequence. However, our genomes are still poorly understood. Many sequences are multi-functional, and knowledge of mechanisms of gene expression is essential to any meaningful model.
We urgently need a regulatory framework for the use of procedures such as pre-natal screening, and to exercise restraint in gene eradication. A detailed assessment and forecast of the long- term consequences is essential before a potentially corrosive procedure become entrenched in modern society. The alternative: we might just end up domesticating ourselves.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7416 on: Oct 4th, 2012, 08:22am »
Turkey Retaliates to Syrian Shelling Oct. 3, 2012 - 03:57PM By UMIT ENGINSOY
ANKARA — Turkey on late Oct. 2 retaliated to earlier shelling of its territory by Syrian forces, the prime minister’s office said. It was not clear if there were casualties.
“Our artillery forces immediately retaliated to Syria, acting on targets determined by our radars,” it said. “The targets were hit. We will not leave such provocations unanswered in the future,” it said in a written statement.
Syrian shells killed five people and injured another nine when they exploded in the neighboring Turkish town of Akcakale, Turkish televisions reported.
“A mother and four of her children were killed when a Syrian shell exploded in their garden,” said a report by the Haberturk television. “Another nine people were injured, two of them seriously,” it added.
Turkey, which earlier said it was not clear if the attack was launched by the Syrian government or the rebels, later ruled that it was the Syrian regime that was responsible.
Syria did not say if the Turkish shelling caused any casualties.
The U.S. expressed “outrage” over the Syrian attack. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. is consulting its NATO ally on what she termed a “very dangerous situation.”
“This is over. The Syrians did something nasty, and the Turks retaliated. We are not expecting this to turn into something more serious,” said a European Union diplomat here.
It’s not the first scuffle between the two countries. Syria on June 22 downed a Turkish RF-4 fighter jet, saying it was operating in its airspace.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7418 on: Oct 5th, 2012, 07:45am »
Syrian rebels capture air defense base near Damascus
By Oliver Holmes and Jonathon Burch Fri Oct 5, 2012 8:31am EDT
BEIRUT/AKCAKALE (Reuters) - Syrian rebels said they had captured an air defense base with a cache of missiles outside Damascus, a rare advance on the city after a series of opposition setbacks in the capital.
Rebel forces overran the base in the Eastern Gouta area, a few miles east of Damascus, on Thursday, according to video posted on YouTube.
Across the country about 180 people were killed in violence on Thursday, including 48 government soldiers, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council condemned a cross-border mortar attack by Syrian forces that hit a Turkish village and demanded that such violations of international law stop immediately.
Turkish artillery bombarded Syrian positions on Wednesday and Thursday in retaliation but the border area appeared to be quiet on Friday.
The incident underscored how the conflict, now in its 19th month, could flare across the region while Thursday's fighting showed the situation inside Syria was only getting more serious.
More than 30,000 people have been killed in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which began with peaceful street protests but is now a full-scale civil war.
The video of the assault on the airbase showed dozens of rebels dressed in army fatigues celebrating as black smoke rose from a military installation behind them.
A middle-aged man holding a rifle says the attack was carried out by a rebel battalion from the town of Douma. It also showed rebels at a weapons cache which included what appeared to be part of a surface-to-air missile.
It was not possible to independently verify the videos. Access to Syria for foreign journalists is restricted by the Syrian government.
When rebels have captured army bases in other parts of the country, war planes have bombed the sites shortly afterwards.
Although fighting often takes place in the Damascus suburbs, rebel forces have been unable to hold areas for long in the face of government artillery and air power. They have staged devastating bomb attacks on government and military offices in the heart of the city, however.
TURKEY TALKS TOUGH
Turkey has made clear it is ready to launch retaliatory strikes again if the war spills over the border but it has also said it will act under international law and in coordination with other foreign powers.
This week's cross-border violence was the most serious so far in the conflict.
Five Turkish civilians were killed in the southeastern town of Akcakale by the Syrian mortar attack. The Turkish salvoes killed several Syrian soldiers.
Turkey's parliament on Thursday authorized cross-border military action in the event of further aggression. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would never want to start a war and the parliamentary vote was merely a deterrent.
But people in the region remained fearful.
Turkey is sheltering more than 90,000 refugees from Syria and fears a influx similar to the flight of half a million Iraqi Kurds into Turkey after the 1991 Gulf War.
Syria's ally Russia said it had received assurances from Damascus that the mortar strike had been a tragic accident.
The U.N. condemnation was issued after two days of negotiations on an initial text rejected by Russia.
Consensus within the council on Syria-related matters is unusual and it has been deadlocked over the conflict, with veto-wielding Russia and China rejecting calls to sanction the Damascus government.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7419 on: Oct 5th, 2012, 07:54am »
Tomb of Maya 'snake' Queen discovered in Guatemala
The tomb of a great Mayan warrior Queen may have been unearthed by archaeologists in northern Guatemala, redefining the understanding of women's political roles during the Classic Maya period.
7:53AM BST 05 Oct 2012
A piece of jade found in the burial chamber at the El Peru-Waka archaeological site in the Laguna del Tigre National Park in Peten, north of Guatemala City Photo: AP
A team of US and Guatemalan experts led by anthropologist David Freidel found a stone jar at a burial chamber in the royal Maya city of El Peru-Waka that led them to believe it is the burial site of Lady K'abel, considered to be the military governor of an ancient Maya city during the 7th century.
Hieroglyphs on the back of the alabaster jar denote the names Lady Snake Lord and Lady Water Lily.
As well as the jar, which was carved in the shape of a conch shell with the shape of an old woman protruding from the front, the team found other evidence, such as ceramic vessels, jade jewellery, thousands of obsidian blades and a large stone with carvings referring to Lady K'abel. The items were buried with the body – presumably as offerings.
"Lady K'abel was buried 11 meters down from the surface in a temple near a stairway," Mr Freidel said. "K'abel was not a regular person. To put her in that location means that it was important; it means that people continued to worship her after the fall of the dynasty."
"The royal tomb shows that women have been leaders in the past and we must now assume and exercise political participation to strengthen the role of women in the new era," Rosa Maria Chan, deputy minister for cultural and natural heritage, said in the statement.
K'abel, considered the greatest ruler of the Late Classic period, ruled with her husband, K'inich Bahlam, for at least 20 years in the 7th century, Mr Freidel said. She was the military governor of the Waka kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title "Kaloomte" – translated as "Supreme Warrior," higher in authority than her husband, the king.
Mr Freidel, who is from Washington University in St Louis, said the findings at the ruins of El Peru-Waka were "serendipitous."
"In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that the people of Waka buried her in this particularly prominent place in their city," Mr Freidel said.
For Marcello A. Canuto, director of the Research Center of Central Tulane University in Louisiana, the alabaster identifies the tomb as that of the "Lady of Kaan" and noted there is a stela erected in her honour at the archaeological site.
"She has been given all the honours a male king would have been given," Canuto said. "It's not the first such tomb discovered, but it gives an idea of the important role women played in forging dynastic alliances, and the status they enjoyed."
Traci Ardren, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Miami and a Mayan archaeologist specialising in gender relations, said the traditional belief that Maya men occupied a more important place than women has to do with the amount of images in Mayan art that show men in positions of authority.
"People like Lady K'abel show there were examples of extraordinary women that were able to position themselves in powerful roles, were incredibly successful and were accepted by society," Ardren said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7420 on: Oct 5th, 2012, 08:03am »
Study Abroad More English Seek University Bargains in Germany
By Rick Noack
Robert Chesters looks a bit depressed as he sits in a London café sipping his tea. The 21-year-old studies neuroscience at King's College London, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the Anglophone world. It's February, and in just a few months he'll be graduating with a bachelor's degree.
"But, after that, I want to get out of England as fast as possible," he says. "I'd like to do my master's in Germany."
Not Oxford, not Cambridge, not the University of Edinburgh. Germany. And Robert is not alone. At the beginning of the year, the London office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), a state-funded scholarship institution, reported a sharp increase in students interested in pursuing degrees in Germany. By the time the German semester starts in October, many more English students are expected to be sitting in German lecture halls.
Robert, now 22 years old, ended up in the southwestern college town of Tübingen. In just a few days, he'll be starting a master's degree in cellular and molecular neuroscience. All his lectures are in English.
"It's a good alternative," he says. "I just couldn't have afforded to study in England."
Tuition Cap Tripled
Like Robert, many English university students are finding it increasingly difficult to finance their education. The conservative-led government of Prime Minister David Cameron has made deep cuts to publicly funded universities and has dramatically increased the cap on tuition from £3,000 to £9,000 (€11,200). Many universities are asking no less this academic year. As a result, the number of British applicants last December was down by about 23,000, or nearly 8 percent -- a trend that may continue.
"Similarly, the money available for teaching master's degrees has been cut and so fees will also have to rise," says Claire Callender of the Institute of Education at London University. England is risking the reputation of its good universities, she adds. As a consequence, students are increasingly looking for alternatives abroad.
One of those is Sam Dolbear. In October, he began a doctoratal degree in philosophy at the Free University of Berlin.
"I love the city and the program already, even though I just got here," he says. It was pure luck that he found out that an English-speaking degree program in Germany was even possible. "Most English have no idea. But I think that's going to change fast," he said. "From an English perspective, the German university system really has a lot to offer."
Potential Benefits to German Economy
The Free University has long been gathering experience in English-language education. The number of British students at the university has doubled over the last five years, with a corresponding boom in the number of courses offered in English. And it's no fluke. The website studyportals.eu, which offers prospective students a comparison of different university degrees across Europe, reported that Germany experienced Europe's largest growth in English-language master's courses over the last two years. There are now about 650.
Technical and natural-science programs in Germany are particularly popular. Engineers have their pick from among roughly 200 English-language programs across the country. And they are not the only ones who stand to benefit -- experts see potential for the German economy, as well.
"The interest in our firms among English students is big," says Lars Funk of the Association of German Engineers (VDI). "And the current labor shortage in Germany could inflict lasting damage."
Robert Chesters says he could imagine staying in Germany to work. But, for now, he's got bigger problems to worry about, such as opening a German bank account. In any case, that account is likely to be under considerably less financial pressure in Tübingen than in London. And it turns out the city's not so bad.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7421 on: Oct 5th, 2012, 08:09am »
What Does One Wear on a 23-Mile Space Jump? By Beth Carter October 5, 2012 | 6:30 am Categories: Gadgets, gear & games, Weird & wonderful
Felix Baumgartner in the custom-tailored pressure suit that will protect him as he falls to Earth from the edge of the stratosphere. Photo: Jörg Mitter/Red Bull Content Pool
As the sun rises over the New Mexico desert Monday morning, Felix Baumgartner will step into a space capsule suspended beneath an immense helium balloon and slowly ascend to the edge of the stratosphere, where he will step into the void and fall 23 miles to Earth.
To do this safely, or, rather, as safely as possible, he will wear a pressurized suit designed to protect him from sub-zero temperatures, decompression sickness and the very real possibility that the liquid within his body could turn to gas, rendering him unconscious within seconds.
The suit builds on everything the aerospace industry has ever known, and may well lead the way to a new generation of suits that could be worn by high-altitude pilots, astronauts and perhaps even the tourists who may one day touch the heavens.
“We can learn what types of materials are needed to protect crews, what types of interfaces, etc., are needed if you’re ejecting from extreme altitude,” said Dan Barry of David Clark Company, which designed and built the suit. “If you look at the evolution of any type of protective equipment, there are things to be learned that will be directly applicable to designing the next generation of crew-protecting equipment.”
Baumgartner’s suit was made by the David Clark Company, which has provided flight suits for pilots and astronauts since World War II. Image: Red Bull Content Pool
Baumgartner hopes to break the unofficial record Joe Kittinger, a retired Air Force colonel from Florida, set in 1960 when he jumped from 102,800 feet during Project Excelsior. Should he succeed, the 43-year-old Austrian adventurer also will claim the record for the highest manned balloon flight and the longest free fall by a skydiver. Cooler still, Baumgartner wants to become the first person to exceed the speed of sound — about 700 mph at that altitude — in free fall.
Reaching any altitude beyond 62,000 feet requires wearing a pressurized suit, otherwise, water in the body turns to gas and the body distends in what is called ebullism. No one’s ever developed a suit quite like the one Baumgartner knew he’d need, so Red Bull, his sponsor, turned to the company synonymous with space suits: the David Clark Company.
The Massachusetts firm has since 1941 made many of the suits the country’s best pilots and astronauts have worn while exploring the frontiers of flight. Barry said the company has been approached “many, many times” in the past by skydivers hoping to break Kittinger’s record, but it always declined. Baumgartner, though, was different.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7422 on: Oct 6th, 2012, 12:47pm »
Israeli air force shoots down drone aircraft
Sat Oct 6, 2012 12:41pm EDT
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli air force shot down a drone after it crossed into southern Israel on Saturday, the military said, but it remained unclear where the aircraft had come from.
The drone was first spotted above the Mediterranean Sea in the area of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to the west of Israel, said military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich.
It was kept under surveillance and followed by Israeli air force jets before it was shot down above a forest in an unpopulated area near the border with the occupied West Bank.
Leibovich said it was shot down at about 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), after it traveled east some 35 miles across Israel's southern Negev desert.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the interception as "sharp and effective".
"We view with great gravity the attempt to compromise Israeli air space and will consider our response in due course," Barak said in a statement.
Soldiers were searching the area for the remains of the drone, which security sources said most likely did not originate from the Gaza Strip. It was not immediately clear whether it was armed.
On at least one occasion, Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a Shi'ite group in Lebanon, has launched a drone into Israel. And in 2010, an Israeli warplane shot down an apparently unmanned balloon in the Negev near the country's Dimona nuclear reactor.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Amir Cohen; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7423 on: Oct 6th, 2012, 12:50pm »
Uploaded by publicdomain101 on Oct 10, 2011
Shot on location in San Francisco and starring Lee J. Cobb, John Dall and Jane Wyatt, The Man Who Cheated Himself tells the story of a policeman who pushes the boundaries of the law by covering up a crime committed by his lover. He then finds himself assigned to investigate that very same crime, along with a new rookie partner who is determined to track down the culprit.
Release date(s): December 26, 1950
CAST: Lee J. Cobb as Lt. Ed Cullen Jane Wyatt as Lois Frazer John Dall as Andy Cullen Lisa Howard as Janet Cullen Harlan Warde as Howard Frazer
Director: Felix E. Feist Producer: Jack M. Warner Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. Audio/Visual: sound, black&white