Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The coolest car you'll never drive

The Ford Nucleon was a nuclear-powered concept car developed by Ford Motor Company in 1958. No operational models were built. The design did not include an internal-combustion engine, rather, a vehicle was to be powered by a small nuclear reactor in the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle featured a power capsule suspended between twin booms at the rear. The capsule, which would contain radioactive core for motive power, was designed to be easily interchangeable, according to performance needs and the distances to be traveled.

The passenger compartment of the Nucleon featured a one-piece, pillar-less windshield and compound rear window, and was topped by a cantilever roof. There were air intakes at the leading edge of the roof and at the base of its supports. An extreme cab-forward style provided more protection to the driver and passengers from the reactor in the rear. Some pictures show the car with tailfins sweeping up from the rear fenders.

The drive train would be integral to the power module, and electronic torque converters would take the place of the drive-train used at the time. It was said that cars like the Nucleon would be able to travel 5,000 miles or more, depending on the size of the core, without recharging. Instead at the end of the core's life they would be taken to a charging station, which research designers envisioned as largely replacing gas stations. The car was never built and never went into production, but it remains an icon of the Atomic Age of the 1950s.

The mock-up of the car can be viewed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Bush Is Not Above the Law

LAST August, a federal judge found that the president of the United States broke the law, committed a serious felony and violated the Constitution. Had the president been an ordinary citizen — someone charged with bank robbery or income tax evasion — the wheels of justice would have immediately begun to turn. The F.B.I. would have conducted an investigation, a United States attorney’s office would have impaneled a grand jury and charges would have been brought.

But under the Bush Justice Department, no F.B.I. agents were ever dispatched to padlock White House files or knock on doors and no federal prosecutors ever opened a case.

The ruling was the result of a suit, in which I am one of the plaintiffs, brought against the National Security Agency by the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a response to revelations by this newspaper in December 2005 that the agency had been monitoring the phone calls and e-mail messages of Americans for more than four years without first obtaining warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In the past, even presidents were not above the law. When the F.B.I. turned up evidence during Watergate that Richard Nixon had obstructed justice by trying to cover up his involvement, a special prosecutor was named and a House committee recommended that the president be impeached.

And when an independent counsel found evidence that President Bill Clinton had committed perjury in the Monica Lewinsky case, the impeachment machinery again cranked into gear, with the spectacle of a Senate trial (which ended in acquittal).

Laws are broken, the federal government investigates, and the individuals involved — even if they’re presidents — are tried and, if found guilty, punished. That is the way it is supposed to work under our system of government. But not this time.

Last Aug. 17, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the United States District Court in Detroit issued her ruling in the A.C.L.U. case. The president, she wrote, had “undisputedly violated” not only the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, but also statutory law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Enacted by a bipartisan Congress in 1978, the FISA statute was a response to revelations that the National Security Agency had conducted warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. To deter future administrations from similar actions, the law made a violation a felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.

Yet despite this ruling, the Bush Justice Department never opened an F.B.I. investigation, no special prosecutor was named, and there was no talk of impeachment in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Justice Department lawyers argued last June that warrants were not required for what they called the administration’s “terrorist surveillance program” because of the president’s “inherent powers” to order eavesdropping and because of the Congressional authorization to use military force against those responsible for 9/11. But Judge Taylor rejected both arguments, ruling that even presidents must obey statutory law and the Constitution.

On Jan. 17, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales unexpectedly declared that President Bush had ended the program, deciding to again seek warrants in all cases. Exactly what kind of warrants — individual, as is required by the law, or broad-based, which would probably still be illegal — is as yet unknown.

The action may have been designed to forestall a potentially adverse ruling by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, which had scheduled oral arguments on the case for today. At that hearing, the administration is now expected to argue that the case is moot and should be thrown out — while reserving the right to restart the program at any time.

But that’s a bit like a bank robber coming into court and arguing that, although he has been sticking up banks for the past half-decade, he has agreed to a temporary halt and therefore he shouldn’t be prosecuted. Independent of the A.C.L.U. case, a criminal investigation by the F.B.I. and a special prosecutor should begin immediately. The question that must finally be answered is whether the president is guilty of committing a felony by continuously reauthorizing the warrantless eavesdropping program for the past five years. And if so, what action must be taken?

The issue is not original. Among the charges approved by the House Judiciary Committee when it recommended its articles of impeachment against President Nixon was “illegal wiretaps.” President Nixon, the bill charged, “caused wiretaps to be placed on the telephones of 17 persons without having obtained a court order authorizing the tap, as required by federal law; in violation of Sections 241, 371 and 2510-11 of the Criminal Code.”

Under his program, President Bush could probably be charged with wiretapping not 17 but thousands of people without having obtained a court order authorizing the taps as required by federal law, in violation of FISA.

It is not only the federal court but also many in Congress who believe that a violation of law has taken place. In a hearing on Jan. 18, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said, “For years, this administration has engaged in warrantless wiretapping of Americans contrary to the law.”

His view was shared by the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who said of Mr. Bush, “For five years he has been operating an illegal program.”

And Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, noted that much of the public was opposed to the program and that it both hurt the country at home and damaged its image abroad. “The heavy criticism which the president took on the program,” he said, “I think was very harmful in the political process and for the reputation of the country.”

To allow a president to break the law and commit a felony for more than five years without even a formal independent investigation would be the ultimate subversion of the Constitution and the rule of law. As Judge Taylor warned in her decision, “There are no hereditary kings in America.”

NY Teen in Piracy Lawsuit Accuses Record Companies of Collusion

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- A 16-year-old boy being sued for online music piracy accused the recording industry on Tuesday of violating antitrust laws, conspiring to defraud the courts and making extortionate threats.

In papers responding to a lawsuit filed by five record companies, Robert Santangelo, who was as young as 11 when the alleged piracy occurred, denied ever disseminating music and said it's impossible to prove that he did.

Santangelo is the son of Patti Santangelo, the 42-year-old suburban mother of five who was sued by the record companies in 2005. She refused to settle, took her case public and became a heroine to supporters of Internet freedom.

The industry dropped its case against her in December but sued Robert and his sister Michelle, now 20, in federal court in White Plains. Michelle has been ordered to pay $30,750 in a default judgment because she did not respond to the lawsuit.

Robert Santangelo and his lawyer, Jordan Glass, responded at length on Tuesday, raising 32 defenses, demanding a jury trial and filing a counterclaim against the companies for allegedly damaging the boy's reputation, distracting him from school and costing him legal fees.

His defenses to the industry's lawsuit include that he never sent copyrighted music to others; that the recording companies promoted file sharing before turning against it; that average computer users were never warned that it was illegal; that the statute of limitations has passed; and that all the music claimed to have been downloaded was actually owned by his sister on store-bought CDs.

Santangelo also claims that the record companies, which have filed more than 18,000 piracy lawsuits in federal courts, "have engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to defraud the courts of the United States.''

The papers allege that the companies, "ostensibly competitors in the recording industry, are a cartel acting collusively in violation of the antitrust laws and public policy'' by bringing the piracy cases jointly and using the same agency "to make extortionate threats ... to force defendants to pay.''

The Recording Industry Association of America, which has coordinated most of the lawsuits, issued a statement saying, "The record industry has suffered enormously due to piracy. That includes thousands of layoffs. We must protect our rights. Nothing in a filing full of recycled charges that have gone nowhere in the past changes that fact.''

Monday, January 29, 2007

World's oldest woman dies four days after assuming title

A woman from Connecticut who had inherited the title of 'world's oldest person' only last Wednesday has died aged 114.

Emma Faust Tillman died in a nursing home in the Hartford where she had lived for the last four years, surrounded by her family.

Born to former slaves, she had seen 21 American presidencies, and up until the age of 110, she had lived independently.

She died last night, setting another record by being the world's oldest person for a mere four days. She was confirmed as the oldest on Wednsesday after the death of Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, who lived to be 115, according to Guinness World Records.

The oldest person is now is believed to be Yone Minagawa of Fukuoka of Japan, who is 114, says the International Committee on Supercentenarians. This is yet to be confirmed by Guinness World Records.

John B Stewart Jr, Ms Tillman's great-nephew, said that she never smoked or drank, did not need glasses and only reluctantly agreed to wear a hearing aid.

Her family have also described her as a deeply religious woman, who attributed her long life to God's will.

Karen Chadderton, administrator of Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Centre in East Hartford said: "She went peacefully. She was a wonderful woman.

"She has a lot of faith and says, 'Whatever the good Lord wants is what will happen."

Mrs Tillman was born on November 22, 1892, on a plantation near Gibsonville, North Carolina and was one of 23 children, some of whom died at birth. Others lived almost as long as she did: a brother died at 108, a sister at 105 and two others at 102.

Her family later moved to Glastonbury where her father worked on local tobacco and milk farms while she picked and cooked berries to sell along with working as a cook and maid for several white families.

While she was the only black student in her class when she graduated from highschool in 1909, she said she never experienced discrimination there.

"In Glastonbury, I didn’t know if I was white or black," she said in 1994. "People were just fine, even way back then, to me. They treated me just like everybody else."

She later ran her own baking and catering service which was frequented by Dr Thomas Hepburn, the father of actress Katharine Hepburn.

In 1914, she married Arthur Tillman and they had two daughters. He died in 1939.

She is survived by an 80-year-old daughter, Marjorie, and a large number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Yone Minagama was born on January 4, 1893. She has been living at a nursing home for several years and is said to maintain a healthy appetite even though she seldom leaves her bed.

Iraqi cult and its 'messiah' destroyed near Najaf

An apocalyptic sect, led by a man claiming to be an Islamic messiah, has been wiped out in Iraq just as it was planning to disrupt the holiest day in the Shia Muslim calendar, Iraqi officials claimed today.

Iraqi soldiers, backed by US tanks and helicopters, concluded one of the strangest battles in four years of fighting in the country at dawn this morning near the city of Najaf.

Local government officials claimed that as many as 300 militants from a Shia sect calling themselves Jund al-Samaa (Soldiers of Heaven) were killed in fierce fighting that lasted for nearly 24 hours and cost the lives of five Iraqi personnel and two US servicemen whose helicopter crashed. A further 100 rebels were reported captured.

Reports from Najaf today described the city as calm but awash with Iraqi soldiers and roadblocks, ordering men out of their cars and demanding identity papers. A sandstorm enveloped the streets in an orange mist.

Iraq’s national security minister said the leader of the sect was a 40-year-old Iraqi who claimed to be the Mahdi -- an Islamic prophet who is destined to rise again and judge good from evil. The man, believed to be from the nearby Shia city of Diwaniya was killed just as he was preparing to lead an attack on Shia clerics in Najaf, said Shirwan al-Waeli.

"He claimed to be the Mahdi," said Mr al-Waeli, adding that that the man used the full name Mahdi bin Ali bin Ali bin Abi Taleb, claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad.

"One of the signs of the coming of the Mahdi was to be the killing of the Ulema (Islamic clerical leaders) in Najaf," he said.

Sectarian attacks have accompanied Ashoura, the holiest festival in the Shia calendar, in each of the last three years in Iraq, including the deadly, synchronised bombings of shrines in 2004 that cost nearly 200 lives.

The festival, during which devout Shia flagellate themselves, causes tension between Sunnis and Shia because it commemorates the 7th-century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, that led to the schism between the two main strains of Islam.

But the violence has typically been perpetrated by Sunnis on Shias and vice versa, not because of splits within the communities.

So there was confusion today about the origins and motives of the sect. US officials have declined to comment on the battle, saying the operation was still continuing but the deputy governor of Najaf claimed that the group was a Shia cult linked to al-Qaeda and had foreign fighters within its ranks.

Iraqi military officials said that 30 of the dead were Afghans and Saudis and that of the 13 arrested, one was from Sudan.

The role of al Qaeda is unclear, because the group has typically allied itself with extremist Sunni militants, regarding Shia Muslims as apostates and heretics. The deputy governor of Najaf, Abdel Hussein Attan, said the militia "appears to be a Shia group but its deep-rooted conviction is different".

"I have come to the total conviction from what I have seen with my own eyes on the ground that al-Qaeda is behind this group," he said. "Based on the confessions of interrogated militants and other information, this well-structured group intended to attack Shia clerics and take control of Najaf and its holy sites."

The Mahdi is a key figure in Islamic ideas of the apocalypse. Much as Christians believe in the second coming of Jesus, Sunnis maintain he will return to divide good from evil and deliver peace to mankind, while Shias believe he is the Twelfth Imam, a descendant of Muhammad who was been missing since the Ninth Century.

The coming of the Mahdi, and the need for a vanguard of soldiers to prepare the way, has inspired other Islamic uprisings, including the rebellion against British rule in Sudan in the 1880s and the occupation of the Grand Mosque at Mecca by militants in 1979.

Ashoura has caused tension across Iraq, with the festival due to reach its climax tomorrow. At least 15 people have already died following sectarian attacks in Baghdad and the Sunni town of Jurf al-Sakhar, south of the capital.

Five schoolgirls were killed yesterday in Baghdad when mortar shells rained down on a Shia school. A further 20 were injured. And ten people, including three children and four women, died in a Shia quarter of the mainly Sunni Jurf al-Sakhar, when they came under mortar attack this morning, local police said.

The sectarian hatred highlighted by Ashoura caused one of Iraq's most influential Shia leaders to say today that the country should split into three regions. Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Shia bloc in Iraq's 275-seat parliament, reiterated his call to divide Iraq into a Kurdish north, a Shia south and a mixed central zone of Sunnis and Shias.

"I reaffirm that the establishing of regions will help us in solving many problems that we are suffering from. Moreover, it represents the best solution for these problems," said Mr al-Hakim. Iraq's Government, the US and Britain have repeatedly stated that they do not want the country to divide along sectarian lines.

Top 10 airports in the world

Why spend your next layover in a mind-numbingly dull airport terminal when you can spend it catching a flick or taking a dip? "Enjoyable" might be the last word you would associate with air travel these days, but the experience of passing through one of our ten favorite airports comes pretty close. Pick your arrival or connecting airport from this list and enjoy fine art, city excursions, spas, and cowboy-hat-wearing welcome committees on your next trip, because whether an airport made this list because of its stellar amenities, spectacular natural surroundings, or award-winning architecture, it's guaranteed to remind you that getting there is half the fun.

1. Aéroport de St. Jean
Despite being the chicest island in the Caribbean, the airport on St. Barths is as simple and diminutive as it gets – but landing here is an experience nearly as memorable as the French savoir vivre and bikini-clad rock stars that make the island so alluring. Tiny puddle-jumpers (some with only 7 seats) arrive from St. Maarten and Guadeloupe during daytime hours, landing on a miniscule strip that ends abruptly at the edge of the Caribbean Sea, right on the cusp of the island's famed St. Jean beach. Upon descent, your heart rate will escalate as you dip between steep emerald hillsides and fly over gingerbread-trimmed Creole cazes before arriving with the nose of your plane so close to the Caribbean, you'd be forgiven for thinking you could just dive right in upon disembarking. Alas, you'll have to go indoors, and pass through customs, before being allowed to hit the surf.

2. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
As one of the world's busiest aviation hubs, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport could be deemed a travel destination in its own right – it boasts an on-site art gallery, casino, and even organized city excursions. You can easily arrive early here, and spend your pre-flight time viewing the Dutch masters on display from the famed Rijksmuseum, or trying your luck at the slots and gaming tables in the terminal's Holland Casino. Connecting passengers can rent mini office space to get work done, snooze in oversized lounge chairs, get a massage, or even head out on a short city excursion – regular bus tours leave from the airport. You can even plan on getting married here! All of this, coupled with worthwhile eateries and fantastic duty-free shopping, makes Schiphol one of our very top picks.

3. Calgary International Airport
Many travelers find themselves passing through Canada's Calgary International Airport on their way to Banff and the Canadian Rockies in ski season, but there's fun to be had no matter what time of year you find yourself in this airport. Sign up for a "white hat welcome ceremony" and be greeted at your gate by a group of white-cowboy-hat-wearing volunteers, who'll present you with your very own hat and Calgary-style welcome.

Proceed to baggage claim, where conveyer belts are anchored by rotating exhibits ranging from life-sized local animals to dinosaurs (all stuffed, of course). If you've got some time to kill, the airport also touts over 110 shops and restaurants with a "street-pricing" philosophy, guaranteeing prices won't be padded.

4. Changi Airport
There's so much to do at Singapore's Changi Airport, you may just want to miss your flight. If you're deplaning, make a beeline for the spa services, showers, or napping cubicles, all of which are available 24/7, or head out for a free tour of Singapore (choose from the Colonial, Cultural, or Lifestyle tours), swim a few laps in the pool, catch a flick in the airport movie theater, or take a nature walk through the onsite sunflower garden complete with Koi pond. Shoppers and diners won't be disappointed, either, what with the upscale stores (think Burberry, Celine, Hermes, Gucci, and Ferragamo) and over 50 restaurants here. No matter what you decide to do, a stopover in Changi promises to rejuvenate you.

5. Heathrow Airport
Two words: Duty free. At London's Heathrow airport, killing a few hours is both easy and enjoyable, especially when you board the plane with some extra goodies (tax free, of course). The long, glossy promenades in Terminals 1 to 4 are lined with stores, restaurants, bars, pubs, and cafés vying for your attention, but why not get gorgeous with a manicure or pedicure at Manicure Express or prep yourself for a long flight with a refreshing spa treatment at Rejuve? You can also pick up some last-minute souvenirs at Harrods – a mini-version of the retail staple in Knightsbridge – and revel in some heavy-duty shopping at high-end shops like Chanel, Hermes, and Christian Dior, so you can at least look like a first-class passenger, even when flying coach.

6. John F. Kennedy International Airport
This airport makes our list for one reason: JetBlue's Terminal 6. Besides having a dedicated online bag-drop counter (allowing you to check in for your flight online and still check your bags on arrival), the terminal also boasts a full-service Oasis Day Spa where you can get a pre- or post-flight manicure, facial, or massage. You can also let the kids blow off some pre-flight steam in the children's play area (your fellow passengers will thank you) or grab some made-to-order sushi at Deep Blue (just one of the many on-site restaurants) while taking in the sounds of one of the live bands that occasionally serenade terminal passengers. One caveat: While Terminal 6 is widely regarded as the best of all three New York airports, you'll need your own JetBlue boarding pass to see what the fuss is about.

7. Keflavik International Airport
Though Keflavik Airport is tops for being hassle-free (thanks in large part to its small size) and its design (white, mod, and virtually noiseless), the real reason Iceland's main airport makes this list is because of what's outside its perimeters. The country's main carrier, Icelandair (, offers a plethora of packages that allow passengers a free stopover en-route to one of the airline's other European destinations. Passengers can stay in Iceland for up to seven nights, and enjoy the country's stark beauty and legendary nightlife scene before hitting their next European capital without having to pay extra for an ongoing ticket. What's more, you can decompress before or after your flight with a mineral soak in the nearby Blue Lagoon, as airport shuttles conveniently offer drop-off/pick-up services to and from the airport.

8. Los Angeles International Airport
Although the TV series LAX was short-lived, the popularity of this mega airport (the world's fifth--busiest passenger airport) hasn’t dwindled. Get out your camera phone and keep an eye out for passengers sporting dark sunglasses indoors, because this airport is second to none for celebrity sightings. But even if no one famous crosses your path, you don't have to settle for reading a copy of US Weekly here – you can handily pass your time in one of the nine terminals, each filled with eateries, lounges, gift shops, duty-free stores, and business centers. The space-age-like Encounter Restaurant (in the central terminal area) is a standout, located 70 feet above ground and serving fresh California fare in a mod setting.

9. Madrid-Barajas Airport
Spain's busiest airport doubled its capacity in early 2006 and, with the addition of the sleek new Terminal 4 at Madrid's Barajas International came straightforward linear layouts and light-filled hallways. Along with extensive dining opportunities (including tapas and wine bars) and shopping (look for an outpost of chic boutique Zara), as well as banking, medical, tourism, and business amenities, the new terminal – designed by the same group responsible for London's Millennium Dome and the Centre Pompidou in Paris – is tops for architecture buffs, having reeled in a slew of accolades, including Britain’s most prestigious architecture award, the Stirling Prize.

10. Sydney Airport
The Aussies are known for being friendly, so it should come as no surprise that their hospitality starts as soon as your plane lands. Keep an eye out for the Gold Ambassadors, the smiling people in bright yellow jackets whose mission is to welcome and assist you. If you have a long layover, freshen up in the shower facilities (but bring your own towel) before storing your bags and heading into Sydney for some sightseeing via the Airport Link (it runs every 10 or 15 minutes, depending on the time of day, and takes just 15 minutes to the city center). If you choose to hang in the airport, you'll enjoy internet kiosks (free in Terminal 1), a children’s play area (in all terminals), 150 shops throughout the airport, and a multitude of dining opportunities.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hi, I'd like to buy a copy of Vista (Image)

Man says he zapped wife's grandma

A man who said he used a stun gun on his wife's 79-year-old grandmother was arrested for investigation of domestic assault.

Aaron de Bruyn, 26, was cited with fourth-degree domestic violence assault Wednesday and released from the Skamania County jail Thursday, Police Chief Calvin Owens said. The grandmother wasn't injured.

De Bruyn said he was arguing with Rosemary Garlock, who accused him of abusing his seven-month-old son when he swatted the boy's diapered bottom to stop him from grabbing electrical wires.

When she refused to leave, he said he shocked her on her right shoulder as she sat on the living room couch.

"She yelped, because getting Tased hurts," de Bruyn told The Columbian newspaper.

De Bruyn said he had the 50,000-volt Taser X26 energy weapon to protect against burglars. He said he called authorities, saying he had a relative in his house who would not leave.

De Bruyn's stun gun was confiscated.

"If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't," he said.

OpEd:Let's Be More Like Russia

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov called Monday for drug dealers to be "destroyed" during a speech to law enforcement and city offficials at the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Drug Control Service, according to an account in the Moscow Times. Luzkhov suggested Russia implement drug laws like those in Singapore, where drug traffickers face execution.

"In Singapore, there is no drug addiction," he said. "Let us do the same." Luzkhov somewhat wistfully noted that "these days, a democratic government does not accept" a draconian drug policy like Singapore's, but added that Russia should "accept something close to it."

But Russia has gone in the other direction in recent years. Since 2004, when a new law decriminalized simple drug possession, official drug policy has been to go after traffickers and sellers, but not users. Apparently, the increased penalties for drug dealers and traffickers under the 2004 law is not enough for Luzkhov, and the decriminalization of drug possession sticks in the craw of Russian narcs. The Federal Drug Control Service has fought bitterly to reinstate penalties against small-time possessors, first attempting to subvert the new law's intent by defining personal use quantities at ridiculously low levels, such as 0.01 grams of heroin. Instead, the personal use quantity was set at one gram, but in a small victory for the drug warriors, that was cut back to half a gram last year.

Drug use has been on the rise in Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union since its dissolution. The country registers several hundred thousand "drug addicts" each year, with the real number being likely much greater. An estimated 70,000 Russians die from drug overdoses each year, and injection drug use is involved in many of the country's hundreds of thousands of AIDS cases.

While officials like Mayor Luzkhov see only greater repression as the answer, non-governmental organizations like New Drug Policy seek to balance the hardliners by lobbying for reasonable harm reduction policies. "Using a drug is not a criminal offense," said the group's Lev Levinson in response to the mayor's remarks. "It is punishable only by a fine. The mayor, Levinson said, had cast an envious glance on Singapore's harsh policy for at least a decade.

A 3,375-mile swim up the Amazon

A LONG-DISTANCE swimmer known as “the Fish Man” will start a daring 3,375-mile journey along the entire length of the Amazon this week, a feat that has never been attempted before because of its extraordinary dangers.

Martin Strel, 52, a Slovenian who has already swum the lengths of the Danube (1,877 miles), the Mississippi (2,360 miles) and the Yangtze (2,487 miles), was completing preparations this weekend for his toughest challenge by far.

On his way from Atalaya in Peru to Belem in Brazil — a marathon equivalent to swimming the Atlantic — he is expected to encounter venomous snakes, crocodiles, rapids, whirlpools and a 13ft tidal wave called the Pororoca.

His support team, travelling in three boats and filming a documentary on his progress, will carry buckets of fresh animal blood to pour into the water in order to distract potentially lethal predators, particularly the flesh-eating piranha.

“I’m a little afraid because the Amazon is a huge river filled with ferocious creatures, fish and insects,” Strel said last week. “I’m going to swim that river or die trying — but I’m hoping for a happy ending.”

Among the perils he faces is the candiru, or toothpick fish — otherwise known as the “vampire fish of Brazil” — which is said to swim up the penis and deep into the urethra where it raises a spine and feeds on blood and tissue. Only surgery will remove it.

Strel, who plans to swim 14 hours a day for 70 days, will wear a wetsuit and use copious quantities of Vaseline to protect himself. His support team includes two doctors, who will carry several pints of his blood in case he needs a transfusion.

The expedition, which will be broadcast live on the internet, will draw on advice from doctors and scientists around the world who will monitor his health.

A grizzled bear of a man, Strel, who is a national hero in Slovenia, may also come across poisonous fresh-water stingrays and aggressive bull sharks, which travel far up the river from the Atlantic and frequently attack swimmers. Other hazards range from tarantulas to malaria, dengue fever and rabies spread by bites from vampire bats.

Many experts on the river have expressed their fears for his safety. Sergio Bringel, a researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Amazon Research, said: “Anything is possible but the Amazon is far more treacherous than the Mississippi or the Yangtze.

“I wouldn’t try and stop him but the risks are there — from being eaten by piranhas, drowning in the rapids or being attacked by cannibal tribes.”

Strel, who will sleep on a support boat at night, has been training for two years, swimming three to four hours a day, deliberately putting on weight to guard against emaciation during his adventure. He boasts of a diet that allows him to eat anything he wants, washed down with copious quantities of red wine and Slovenian beer.

He told one interviewer about his fears during long river expeditions. “On a bad day you’re fighting currents and big waves. Sometimes you’re hungry and tired,” he said.

“Other times you’re swimming through polluted waters, dodging electrical storms and desperately trying not to think what else might be swimming alongside or under you. Water snakes are the things I hate most.”

He will dive into the Amazon on Thursday at least 40lb overweight but if all goes according to schedule on the $1m (£510,000) expedition, he will arrive at the coast on April 11. “I want to achieve the impossible,” he said.

Born in the former communist Yugoslavia, Strel was a guitar student before becoming a professional marathon swimmer in 1978. He swam the Channel in 1997, a modest effort by comparison with what was to follow. In 2001 he broke the world record for an uninterrupted swim, covering 313 miles in a time of 84 hours 10 minutes.

He is also the only man to have swum from Tunisia to Italy, completing the 49 miles in less than 30 hours.

“As a young boy I was beaten a lot by my parents and schoolmasters,” he confessed. “This no doubt contributed greatly to my ability to ignore pain and endure.”

Last warning: 10 years to save world

THE world has just 10 years to reverse surging greenhouse gas emissions or risk runaway climate change that could make many parts of the planet uninhabitable.

The stark warning comes from scientists who are working on the final draft of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report, due to be published this week, will draw together the work of thousands of scientists from around the world who have been studying changes in the world’s climate and predicting how they might accelerate.

They conclude that unless mankind rapidly stabilises greenhouse gas emissions and starts reducing them, it will have little chance of keeping global warming within manageable limits.

The results could include the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, the forced migration of hundreds of millions of people from equatorial regions, and the loss of vast tracts of land under rising seas as the ice caps melt.

In Europe the summers could become unbearably hot, especially in southern countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy, while Britain and northern Europe would face summer droughts and wet, stormy winters.

“The next 10 years are crucial,” said Richard Betts, leader of a research team at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for climate prediction. “In that decade we have to achieve serious reductions in carbon emissions. After that time the task becomes very much harder.”

Among the scientists’ biggest fears is that rising temperatures and levels of greenhouse gases could soon overwhelm the natural systems that normally keep their levels in check.

About half the 24 billion tons of carbon dioxide generated by human activities each year are absorbed by forests and oceans — a process without which the world might already be several degrees warmer.

But as CO2 levels rise and soils dry, microbes can start breaking down accumulated organic matter, so forests become net producers of greenhouse gases. The sea’s power to absorb CO2 also falls sharply as it warms.

The latest research suggests the threshold for such disastrous changes will come when CO2 levels reach 550 parts per million (ppm), roughly double their natural levels. This is predicted to happen around 2040-50.

“At the moment the real impact of our emissions is buffered because CO2 is absorbed by natural systems. However, if we reach this threshold they could be magnified instead,” said Betts. “It means we must start the action needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next few years.”

His warnings were backed up by Dr Malte Meinshausen, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. He has used computer modelling to work out what might happen if greenhouse gas emissions were cut immediately, in 10 years’ time or later.

His results showed that immediate action might allow mankind to hold CO2 levels at 450ppm — well below the 550ppm danger level. However, Meinshausen and his colleagues recognise that this is unrealistic because the world’s governments are in such disarray over global warming. The best hope, they say, is that a global plan will emerge in the next few years, most likely from the renegotiations of the Kyoto treaty on reducing emissions.

“We have to make sure carbon emissions peak no later than 2015 and then fall at around 3% a year. If we let them keep rising after that date it becomes much harder to bring them under control,” said Meinshausen.

His views were echoed by Dr Carol Turley of Plymouth Marine Laboratories who has been studying how rising CO2 levels are acidifying the ocean. When the gas dissolves in water it creates carbonic acid. “Rising acidity makes it much harder for marine organisms to build shells,” she said.

Turley, like the other scientists, has contributed to the IPCC report but all commented this weekend on the basis of already-published research. “If we do not take action in the next decade, by 2100 swathes of the ocean could have been stripped of creatures from plankton to coral reefs,” she said. “Such changes would devastate ecosystems and fisheries.”

Commissioner Barroso leads the battle from his gas-guzzling 4x4

THE president of the European commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has been accused of hypocrisy for driving a fuel-guzzling off-road vehicle while insisting that cars must become more frugal to combat climate change, write Daniel Foggo and Nicola Smith.

Barroso last week backed proposals to force manufacturers to slash carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by more than 25% within six years.

His car is a Volkswagen Touareg, a hulking 4x4 with high fuel consumption and a carbon dioxide output of 275 g/km compared with an average of 163 g/km.

Barroso said the Touareg was chosen by his wife Margarida and that he rarely travelled in it. His other mode of transport is understood to be a commission Mercedes.

His spokesman said it was “against the concept of a free society to micro-manage people’s choices”.

Jan Kowalzig, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “Barroso claims to be committed to fighting climate change whilst driving a big gas-guzzling

car in the narrow roads of Brussels. As a high-profile politician he should lead by example, making significant changes to his own lifestyle.”

In contrast, Stavros Dimas, the European environment commissioner, drives a small, green-pleasing Honda Jazz.

Iran begins big nuclear build-up

IRAN plans next month to begin installing equipment that will enrich uranium on an industrial scale, dramatically raising the bidding in its confrontation with the West.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iranian officials had told him they planned to start installing the centrifuge equipment in an underground plant at Natanz, 150 miles south of Tehran. Centrifuges are the machines that spin uranium gas to enrich it to a grade suitable for nuclear power or weapons.

ElBaradei said he was worried that further sanctions against Iran, which the United Nations has threatened to impose next month if it fails to halt its enrichment programme, were “only going to lead to escalation”.

He dismissed as “absolutely bonkers” suggestions that Israel or the US might mount a military attack on the Iranian nuclear sites. It might destroy the buildings, he said, but it would not deprive Iran of its nuclear expertise and would strengthen the hand of hardliners in the regime.

The US has said it wants a diplomatic solution to the standoff but has not ruled out military action if that failed.

In a move analysts said was a warning to Iran, it has sent a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf.

American officials say that there may be an element of bluff in the Iranian statement of intention as the regime had promised a year ago to have 3,000 centrifuges in operation by now.

The credibility of official Iranian pronouncements was further undermined last night when a leading politician in Tehran claimed that the centrifuges were already being installed. “We are now installing 3,000 centrifuges,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs and national security committee, announced. However his statement was swiftly denied by a spokesman of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation.

A formal announcement on Tehran’s nuclear plans is expected for the anniversary of the Iranian revolution next month.

In Washington, the White House reiterated the US stance that the installation of the centrifuges would be a “major miscalculation” by the Iranian government. UN sanctions imposed last month banned the transfer of sensitive materials and know-how to Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes.

The United States has also imposed sanctions on two big Iranian state banks, ratcheting up the pressure on Tehran.

In a separate sign of mounting tensions Iran has demanded the removal of Chris Charlier, a Belgian UN official in charge of inspecting the country’s nuclear programme. The move follows a ban on 38 inspectors from the US, Britain, Germany and France that had pushed for UN sanctions.

The IAEA has a pool of 200 inspectors to verify Tehran is not diverting materials into bomb production. Iran has the legal right to reject any inspector and says it is still co-operating with the IAEA.

Diplomats have said the IAEA did not want a precedent set for hampering inspections and thereby escalating confrontation with the West.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ghost brides are murdered to give dead bachelors a wife in the afterlife

A ring of gangsters who traded in the bodies of women they murdered, selling them as brides to keep dead bachelors happy in the afterlife, has been arrested in China.

The arrests have exposed a trade that places a higher value on women when they are dead than when they are alive.

Yang Dongyan, 35, was arrested on January 4 in Sha’anxi province as he played cards with his children. In his prison cell, Mr Yang showed little remorse for committing two murders. He told the Legal Daily: “I just wanted to make money. It’s a quick way to make money. I was arrested too soon otherwise I had planned to do this business a few more times.”

Two accomplices, Liu Shengbao and Hui Haibao, were also arrested, as was Li Longsheng, a self-styled undertaker who traded the bodies to bereaved families.

Zhang Yanjun, chief of police in Yanchuan county, said: “It’s lucky that the case was cleared up in time or we don’t know how many women would have been killed by them. These people thought they had found a short cut to wealth.” Instead, they face the death penalty.

The men preyed on the superstitions of ill-educated farmers eager to ensure that a dead son was happy in the afterlife. It is not uncommon in rural parts of China for a family to seek out the body of a woman who has died to be buried alongside their son after the performance of a marriage ceremony for the deceased pair.

Ancestor worship is a tradition that runs through many aspects of Chinese life. One of the main Chinese festivals is Tomb Sweeping Day, when families visit graves of their forebears to clean them and burn incense. The spirit is believed to live on in the afterlife and at funerals families burn offerings of paper money and models of houses, cars and other little luxuries that the dead may need.

Mr Yang chanced upon the trade in dead bodies when he paid 12,000 yuan (£800) for a mentally handicapped woman whose family hoped to marry her off for a price. The trade in women as wives is a common practice in rural China and a woman may be sold several times by intermediaries before meeting her eventual husband.

Mr Yang arranged for the woman to stay in a guesthouse in Yanchuan county where Mr Liu offered him £666 for her. Mr Yang refused, until Mr Liu told him that the woman would be worth much more dead than alive. The next morning the two men set out across the Yellow River to meet “Old Li” in Xixian County, Shanxi province. Old Li agreed to buy the woman’s body for £1,050 and to complete the deal late at night on the Yanshuiguan bridge.

The next day Mr Yang killed the woman and took her body by taxi to the bridge where Mr Li was waiting and handed over £1,000 for her. For his part in the deal, Mr Liu received £300 and Mr Yang came away with a loss of £200 after his expenses.

Back at the guesthouse, Mr Yang told an old acquaintance, Mr Hui, that he had found an easy way to make money. The two men agreed to go into the body business together. Last November they sought out a prostitute they knew in nearby Yan’an — the city where Chairman Mao began his Communist revolution — but she threw them out after they said that they could not afford to pay her £20. They returned the next morning and killed her.

On December 3 they completed a similar body handover with Mr Li on the bridge. This time they made only £530 because the buyer was unhappy with the quality of the body and, after costs, Mr Yang and his two friends each earned £100 on that deal.

Old Li had made a name for himself in Xixian county by selling clothes to outfit the dead and by handing out cards that offered to help families in need of a spirit marriage. They want young and good-looking dead brides for their sons and regard the family of the girl as “in-laws”. Police discovered that Mr Li paid between £530 and £660 for a body and sold it on for as much as £2,300.

Fatal attraction
# Traditional Chinese belief holds that the living must tend to the wants and needs of dead relatives, who exist in an afterlife

# The tradition manifests itself in the burning of fake money or paper models of luxury goods

# It is believed by some that an unmarried life is incomplete, leading to the practice of minghun — burying single sons with recently dead young women to provide them with a wife in the afterlife

# Parents of a dead daughter often regard the money received in selling her for minghun as recompense for the dowry that they did not receive in her lifetime, while also posthumously elevating their child’s place in a patriarchal society

# Communist authorities tried to ban the practice, which datesfrom the Zhou dynasty (1122-256BC). It was also forbidden in the Book of Rites, texts that describe religious practices from the eighth to the fifth century BC

# Minghun survives mainly in the poor rural north, particularly in the remote plateau on the upper reaches of the Yellow River

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Eva Longoria To Continue Role As Desperate Housewife

Eva Longoria has denied rumours she is quitting "Desperate Housewives."

Eva - who plays feisty seductress Gabrielle Solis in the hit series - was rumored to be planning to leave the show after the third season, but insists she has no intention of walking away from Wisteria Lane.

She told Britain's Arena magazine, "No way, we're contracted for the next seven years. A lot can happen in a ten-year contract. You know how we all started and Marcia is married and had a baby, Nicollette is engaged to someone else, I'm getting married. Still, it's going to be an interesting ten years."

The 31-year-old has also revealed she has started to become more like house proud "Desperate Housewives" character Bree Van De Kamp, played by Marcia Cross, since meeting her basketball player fiancé Tony Parker.

She said, "I'm very Bree in my life now - I bake and I cook. Tony's a lucky guy."

Eva says Tony has also turned her into a wine expert.

She said, "My fiancé educates me on wine. I didn't care for wine before. But I'm not a big drinker. I actually don't drink at all except for at dinner, occasionally I'll have a glass of wine."

Nokia Net Profits Up 19 Percent in 4Q

World-leading mobile phone maker Nokia Corp. said Thursday that its net profit rose 19 percent on growing sales in the fourth quarter, beating market expectations.

Net profit came to 1.27 billion euros ($1.65 billion), up from 1.07 billion euros in the fourth quarter of 2005. Quarterly sales rose 13 percent to 11.7 billion euros ($15.22 billion), from 10.33 billion euros in the same period a year earlier.

Analysts polled by SME Direkt had forecast a net profit of 1.11 billion euros ($1.44 billion) and sales of 11.58 billion euros ($15.06 billion).

Meanwhile, the closely watched average selling price of Nokia phones dropped to 89 euros ($116), from 93 euros in the previous quarter and 99 euros in the fourth quarter of 2005. That figure has dropped consistently, reflecting a higher proportion of low-end phones in emerging markets such as India and China.

Shares in Nokia gained 4 percent to 16.22 euros ($21.09) on the Helsinki exchange after the announcements.

"Nokia was able to increase its share of the global device market significantly in 2006 to an estimated 36 percent, clearly solidifying our No. 1 position in the industry," Chief Executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said.

"We achieved this result through the strengths of Nokia's world class brand, products, cost structure and efficiency, without sacrificing our operating margins or cash flow."

The Finnish company said it expects the global market for mobile phones to grow 10 percent in 2007 to 978 million handsets. It said its target is to continue raising its market share.

Nokia was the last of the world's top mobile phone makers to release fourth-quarter earnings.

Last week, the company's main rival, Motorola Inc., said it saw profits drop 48 percent in the last three months of 2006 and announced it would cut 5 percent of its work force to improve operating costs.

The industry's No. 3 player, Samsung Electronics Co., said profit fell 8 percent, citing price declines for other key products such as flash memory chips and liquid crystal displays. But it said it sold 32 million mobile phones during the quarter, a company record.

Meanwhile, the fast-growing Sony Ericsson said its net profit more than tripled in the quarter, beating expectations as record sales of its music and camera handsets helped it gain market shares.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Judge:You can call someone a 'fat bastard' but don't be racist

A man who called a police surgeon a “f***ing Paki” was advised yesterday by a judge: “Next time call him a fat bastard and don’t say anything about his colour.”

The judge gave the unusual advice after describing the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute the man for a racially aggravated offence as “a nonsense”.

Matthew Stiddard had been taken into custody by police officers who mistook him for a suspect in another case.

After two hours in a cell he demanded to see a doctor, complaining that his back hurt. But when Dr Imraan Jhetam arrived, Stiddart refused to be seen by him.

Exeter Crown Court heard that Stiddart, 36, swore and told him: “I want an English doctor, not a f***ing Paki.”

Stiddart had opted for the case to be heard at Crown court, where he admitted a charge of racially aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress.

Judge Paul Darlow told the court that the case should never have been brought and suggested that Dr Jhetam should have let the insults “roll off his back”.

The judge said: “I wonder what this is doing in the Crown Court. This was a single sentence to a man who should not have taken it so seriously. He is a man of some considerable standing in society and I cannot see that it caused him any distress or hurt.

“It should not have caused a problem in this case.

“To charge it in the first place rather than, say, let it go by with a caution strikes me as rather odd. We let people hit each other and break into people’s homes and they are not charged.”

Ann Reddrop, for the prosecution, said: “When there is a burglary and it is in the public interest there will be a prosecution. This was a police surgeon and he is entitled to the same protection as anyone else.”

Judge Darlow replied: “So next time call him a fat bastard and don’t say anything about his colour. When we have an overstretched police force and an overstretched CPS one wonders why we are sitting here with long faces dealing with one sentence.”

The judge said last night that his comments were “not intended to make light of racist remarks”.

He said: “Any reading of what was actually said in court would make it clear that the potential seriousness of what occurred was that a police surgeon was threatened with violence and non-racial abuse to the extent that he decided he needed to leave the cell to which he had been called. This amounted to an assault, but this was not the offence charged.

“A gratuitous single piece of racist abuse was uttered as the surgeon left. This was the charge on which the full weight of the law had been brought to bear. My comments were not intended to make light of racist remarks.

“I fully accept that in a circumstance and time they can be both offensive and distressing to those to whom they are addressed. When made by a drunk towards an obviously highly professional, educated and respected member of society in a position of clear authority over the defendant, I found it hard to conceive that it could be taken as seriously upsetting abuse.”

“It struck me as disproportionate to have brought this particular charge on its own to the Crown Court.”

The court heard that Stiddard was in a pub in Dawlish, south Devon, when police entered looking for someone else. He fitted the description of the wanted man and, after being confronted by police, became abusive and was arrested.

Stiddard fitted the description of the wanted man and was asked to step outside. He became abusive and aggressive and that led to his arrested for a public order offence.

Stiddard received a conditional discharge for two years and was ordered to pay £45 towards the prosecution costs of £150.

A spokeswoman for the Commission for Racial Equality said last night: “It is a slightly unusual case and a difficult issue. We would need to look further into this before making any comment.

“The problem for us is we have to look at the Race Relations Act to look at the legal ramifications.”

Friday, January 12, 2007

Did the President Declare "Secret War" Against Syria and Iran?

Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.

The bare outlines of that order may have appeared in President Bush's Address to the Nation last night outlining his new course on Iraq:

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We're also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

Adding fuel to the speculation is that U.S. forces today raided an Iranian Consulate in Arbil, Iraq and detained five Iranian staff members. Given that Iran showed little deference to the political sanctity of the US Embassy in Tehran 29 years ago, it would be ironic for Iran to hyperventilate much about the raid.

But what is disconcerting is that some are speculating that Bush has decided to heat up military engagement with Iran and Syria -- taking possible action within their borders, not just within Iraq.

Some are suggesting that the Consulate raid may have been designed to try and prompt a military response from Iran -- to generate a casus belli for further American action.

If this is the case, the debate about adding four brigades to Iraq is pathetic. The situation will get even hotter than it now is, worsening the American position and exposing the fact that to fight Iran both within the borders of Iraq and into Iranian territory, there are not enough troops in the theatre.

Bush may really have pushed the escalation pedal more than any of us realize.

-- Steve Clemons

UPDATE: This exchange today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden and Senator Chuck Hagel with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is full of non-denial denials and evasive answers to Biden's query about the President's ability to authorize military operations against forces within Iran and Syria:

SEN. BIDEN: Last night, the president said, and I quote, "Succeeding in Iraq requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges, and that begins with addressing Iran and Syria." He went on to say, "We will interrupt the flow of support for Iran and Syria, and we will seek out and destroy networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

Does that mean the president has plans to cross the Syrian and/or Iranian border to pursue those persons or individuals or governments providing that help?

SEC. RICE: Mr. Chairman, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs was just asked this question, and I think he perhaps said it best. He talked about what we're really trying to do here which is to protect our forces and that we are doing that by seeking out these networks that we know are operating in Iraq. We are doing it through intelligence. We are then able, as we did on the 21st of December, to go after these groups where we find them. In that case, we then asked the Iraqi government to declare them persona non grata and expel them from the country because they were holding diplomatic passports.

But the -- what is really being contemplated here in terms of these networks is that we believe we can do what we need to do inside Iraq. Obviously, the president isn't going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq.

The broader point is that we do have and we have always had as a country very strong interests and allies in the Gulf Region, and we do need to work with our allies to make certain that they have the defense capacity that they need against growing Iranian military build-up, that they fell that we are going to be a presence in the Persian Gulf Region as we have been, and that we establish confidence with the states with which we have long alliances, that we will help defend their interests. And that's what the president had in mind.

SEN. BIDEN: Secretary Rice, do you believe the president has the constitutional authority to pursue across the border into Iraq (sic/Iran) or Syria, the networks in those countries?

SEC. RICE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I think I would not like to speculate on the president's constitutional authority or to try and say anything that certainly would abridge his constitutional authority, which is broad as commander in chief.

I do think that everyone will understand that -- the American people and I assume the Congress expect the president to do what is necessary to protect our forces.

SEN. BIDEN: Madame Secretary, I just want to make it clear, speaking for myself, that if the president concluded he had to invade Iran or Iraq in pursuit of these -- or Syria -- in pursuit of these networks, I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does need congressional authority to do that. I just want to set that marker.

SEN. HAGEL: I want to comment briefly on the president's speech last night, as he presented to America and the world his new strategy for Iraq, and then I want to ask you a couple of questions.

I'm going to note one of the points that the president made last night at the conclusion of his speech. When he said, quote, "We mourn the loss of every fallen American, and we owe it to them to build a future worthy of their sacrifice" -- and I don't think there is a question that we all in this country agree with that -- but I would even begin with this evaluation; that we owe the military and their families a policy, a policy worthy of their sacrifices, and I don't believe, Dr. Rice, we have that policy today.

I think what the president said last night -- and I listened carefully and read through it again this morning -- is all about a broadened American involvement, escalation in Iraq and the Middle East. I do not agree with that escalation, and I would further note that when you say, as you have here this morning, that we need to address and help the Iraqis and pay attention to the fact that Iraqis are being killed, Madame Secretary, Iraqis are killing Iraqis. We are in a civil war. This is sectarian violence out of control -- Iraqi on Iraqi. Worse, it is inter-sectarian violence -- Shi'a killing Shi'a.

To ask our young men and women to sacrifice their lives, to be put in the middle of a civil war is wrong.

It's, first of all, in my opinion, morally wrong. It's tactically, strategically, militarily wrong. We will not win a war of attrition in the Middle East.

And I further note that you talk about skepticism and pessimism of the American people and some in Congress. That is not some kind of a subjective analysis, that is because, Madame Secretary, we've been there almost four years, and there's a reason for that skepticism and pessimism, and that is based on the facts on the ground, the reality of the dynamics.

And so I have been one, as you know, who have believed that the appropriate focus is not to escalate, but to try to find a broader incorporation of a framework. And it will have to be, certainly, regional, as many of us have been saying for a long time. That should not be new to anyone. But it has to be more than regional, it is going to have to be internally sponsored, and that's going to include Iran and Syria.

When you were engaging Chairman Biden on this issue, on the specific question -- will our troops go into Iran or Syria in pursuit, based on what the president said last night -- you cannot sit here today -- not because you're dishonest or you don't understand, but no one in our government can sit here today and tell Americans that we won't engage the Iranians and the Syrians cross-border.

Some of us remember 1970, Madame Secretary, and that was Cambodia, and when our government lied to the American people and said we didn't cross the border going into Cambodia. In fact we did. I happen to know something about that, as do some on this committee.

So, Madame Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here, it's very, very dangerous. Matter of fact, I have to say, Madame Secretary, that I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it -- (interrupted by applause.)


Mystery spies use coins with hidden radios to track US defence experts

Spy gadgets worthy of a James Bond film have been planted by foreign agents on high-level US arms contractors, the Pentagon revealed yesterday.

American security experts said that coins containing tiny radio transmitters were slipped into the pockets of American government defence contractors while they travelled on sensitive missions in Canada, raising suspicions that a foreign power — possibly China or Russia — was behind the scheme.

“On at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006, cleared defence contractors’ employees travelling through Canada have discovered radio frequency transmitters embedded in Canadian coins placed on their persons,” the report, by the counter-intelligence office of the US Defence Security Service, said.

The Canadian Government, which works closely with the US on espionage matters, is not considered a suspect and has denied involvement. “The issue has just come to our attention,” a spokeswoman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said.

China and Russia have sophisticated industrial and military espionage operations in the US and Canada.

Last year a Chinese spy, Ko-Suen “Bill” Moo, pleaded guilty in a US court to charges that he tried to buy military parts and weapons, including an F16 fighter jet engine and cruise missiles, from an undercover FBI agent. Experts said that the coins might be used to track the movements of the US defence contractors whose job it is to buy and sell military technology.

Whom the contractors have met, and when and where, would be valuable information for a foreign spy service, analysts said. The Pentagon report was based on an analysis of 971 “suspicious contacts” reported by US defence contractors during 2005.

It states that foreign-hosted conventions, seminars and exhibits are popular venues for spies to steal military secrets.

One obvious problem with the tracker coins that the spies who planted them face is the risk that the targeted defence contractor might spend them on buying a cup of coffee or a newspaper.

The report did not state what type of Canadian coins were used. The country’s largest is its $2 “Toonie,” which is more than 1in (2.5cm) across and thick enough to hide a tiny transmitter.

The Pentagon report also listed other acts of espionage, including the case of a female foreign spy who seduced an American to steal his computer passwords.

The Pentagon report did not name any countries suspected of being behind the spying. But the reason many analysts suspect China is that it has become the leading espionage operator in the US.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cocaine contaminates Irish euros

The team used the latest forensic techniques that would detect even the tiniest fragments to study a batch of 45 used banknotes.

The scientists at Dublin's City University said they were "surprised by their findings".

Some of the notes had such high levels of cocaine on them that it is thought they were used to snort the drug.

Others had much lower traces and may have been cross-contaminated, perhaps in the wallets or pockets of users.

Growing cocaine use

The results fit with scientific findings from other countries such as the UK and Spain where cocaine has also been found on a high proportion of notes.

Cocaine particles stick to the cotton that is contained within the notes.

Cocaine use is thought to be growing in Ireland. Professor Brett Paul, whose paper was published in a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK, said it demonstrated how widespread the use of cocaine is.

The study also found that higher value banknotes, such as 20 and 50 euros, were more likely to contain greater traces of the drug.

In recent weeks there has been fresh focus in Ireland on the use of drugs in society.

Dublin has seen a number of murders that have been linked to drugs gangs and Ireland's justice minister has said that those who buy cocaine are helping to finance such groups.

One newspaper editorial said that the trend of cocaine use showed that there is something rotten at the heart of Ireland's economic boom.

If you don't upload the images again I might have to contact my lawyer!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

57 Tips for Writing Your Term Paper

So you're in college, maybe for the first time, or maybe returning after an absence. You want to do well in your courses, right? What serious student doesn't? But so many students feel lost it when it comes to effective study techniques, especially when it comes to the dreaded term paper. You know the kind: the ones assigned on the first day and due close to the last; the ones you feel intimidated by and want to ignore as much as possible.

Well you don't have to feel that way if you keep in mind that you're in college to learn and not show off what you already know. So having a few tips handy to help improve your chances at a high-scoring term paper will no doubt help - along with a few general study and college life tips.

Know Thy Prof
Professors and teaching assistants are theoretically there to help you. Understanding their role will help you utilize them appropriately. These tips are very general, mostly non-study related tips that can go a ways to helping your grades.

1. Professors are human. They can be kind and supportive or bitter and vindictive, like it or not. Grin and bear it or switch classes. Or get to know what your prof wants. Studies show (PDF, 3 pgs) that getting to know them improves your chances of success in college.
2. Understand them. It's key to your success, as it can lead to mentoring from them, which is valuable if you plan to do graduate work. Sitting near the front of class improves your chances of catching little hints and participating in lectures.
3. Don't lie to your professor. Ever. They smell the stench of your lie before you open your mouth. They've heard it all before. If you need an extension for your term paper, approach them like a human being, with professional respect.
4. No sob stories. If you intend to ask for a deadline extension because life got in the way, be prepared to at least show the professor how much work you have already done. Showing willingness to learn may be sufficient to win that extension.
5. Don't wait to the last the minute. Don't be like the student who went to the teaching assistant five minutes before a paper was due to profess that they didn't understand the assignment. No one is going to give you an extension at that point.
6. Think like a professor. Most professors say it takes about two minutes of preparation for each minute of lecture. Participate in the learning process by previewing topics before a lecture. If you want to go a step beyond, understand what a lecturer has to consider when preparing exams, assignments and term paper options.
7. Understand them, part 2. It's frustrating but true, some professors don't care enough to have you do more than repeat after them. Give them what they want, but learn on your own if necessary.
8. Your professor has a job and a life. Do approach them for help, but do it during their designated office hours. Lecturers have a memory for students who don't display respect, and it can affect your mark in the long run.
9. Don't know thy professor. Don't get romantically involved. Not heeding this results in expulsion in most colleges. There's obviously little worse for your grades. Ditto for your course advisor. Wait until the semester is over, or after you graduate.

Outlining & Research
There's only so much a professor can help you if you don't have good research skills.

10. Don't wait to the last minute. So obvious but so ignored. If a professor gave you the entire semester to work on the paper, there's a reason. Scope out the workload even if you don't want/have time to start researching immediately.
11. Create a regimen. Manage your study time effectively and study at the same time each day. Balance term papers with regular assignments. Being disciplined is crucial to managing study programs with heavy term paper workloads.
12. Use a roadmap. Always define your objectives with a term paper, if only just for yourself. It'll be easier to change direction, should that be necessary.
13. Outline before writing. If you set out the structure of your paper before you start researching, you will discover where your intrinsic knowledge of the topic is weakest (and thus where to concentrate your research).
14. Write legible notes. There's nothing worse than going back to your own notes and being unable to read them. Lifehack points to 5 ways to make lecture notes more readable. Lifehacker suggests taking study-worty notes.
15. Use a computer. That might seem obvious, but there's probably still a natural inclination to do notetaking by hand. Which is fine. Just write your draft on a computer, to make changes easy. A look at how Microsoft Word handles this, and how you can handle Word’s outlining, is discuss on Shauna Kelley’s site.
16. Get the right software. There are several freeware programs which — unlike word processors — specialize in outlining. Two of these, ActionOutline Lite and TreePad Lite are available for Windows. TreePad Lite is also available for linux, and for Mac and Java as JReePad. Here are 10 tools for online research.
17. Use the Google, be the Google. Google has a cheatsheet and scholar-specific search functionality - an excellent start. Here is a discourse on search engines intended for librarians but relevant to students doing research.

18. Get the big picture. Use encyclopedias, textbooks and websites to research the event or subject background first. Later, drill down into specifics covering your outline’s points and sub-points.
19. Bookmark. Whether you are study at a bricks and mortar college or doing online studies, you are likely to use the Internet for research. A good web browser is key, as is utilizing it properly. Bookmark web pages you find useful, including using bookmark folders to structure your research. It makes writing up your bibliography a lot easier.
20. Learn to revise. Preview, read, review before you write. Then edit and rewrite. Learn about the SQ3R reading and study skill system.
21. Cite for sore eyes. Citations, where you attribute the sources referred to in your paper, vary in style by field of study. Rutger’s University Libraries has a page noting several citation styles, and links to on-line guides. Ask your professors and TAs which method they require you to use.

Looks Are Everything
What you put into a paper will show in its general appearance and organization. Make your term paper something that a teaching assistant or professor will want to read.

22. Put in the effort. Make it look as if you cared about it enough to organize your paper. Write a good introduction and make it clear what you are writing about.
23. Put in the effort, part 2. If you are a skilled writer, you probably don't need to be in college. If you are not, then you need to not only write but edit and rewrite. Polish your work by degrees.
24. Hand in a clean paper. Don't eat nachos and cheese over top of your term paper or soil it in some other way. In fact, make a couple of copies in case this happens, and so that you don't have to go scrambling to print out another.
25. Produce good diagrams. No point including diagrams in your term paper if they make no sense, are irrelevant, or have no references backing up your data. But having quality diagrams or charts can improve your mark, especially if they are original and represent your knowledge of a topic. You don't need to spend money on software when web-based diagramming tools like Gliffy are free.
26. Don't use online term paper mills. Papers purchased from websites tend to circulate a lot, increasing the chances that your professor already knows about a specific paper. Some of them are also hopelessly outdated. If you want a bit of a leg up, only use purchased papers as reference material.

The Most Common Mistakes
Few college students start out highly disciplined. The good news is you can learn.

27. Not picking a good study spot. Every part of a library or campus is not made equally. If you want quiet, try out different areas and pick a good study spot.
28. Not knowing the material. Sounds obvious, but how many students do you know who just don't go to class and don't bother with homework. Why not just throw your tuition money in the garbage or set it on fire in a pile? At least you'll stay warm. You certainly are not going to pass the course without cheating - and maybe not even then.
29. Not reviewing lecture notes. Review lecture notes the same day, for maximum retention. Even better, review immediately after a class, if possible.
30. Not knowing what you already know. Sometimes you know more than you think. But if you haven't explored what you know by writing up your term paper's objectives and producing an outline, you may not realize what you know, feel overwhelmed, and leave things to the last minute. (Try a mind map. See the General Tips section.)
31. Poor grammar. Bad grammar, spelling, typos, contractions are all guarantees of lost marks on a term paper. Use the spell/ grammar checker feature of your word processor.
32. Leaving things to the last minute. Anyone who has done well in college will tell you that being aggressive with your studies will pay off, whereas leaving research until the last minute is a sure road to a failing grade.. Make copies on a hard drive and/or removable media. Crap happens, but it won’t affect you if you take an extra five minutes to make a shelter from the storm.
33. Not meeting the assigned word count. Give exactly the right amount without fluff or padding. It's a skill you develop, and you have to start somewhere.
34. Not meeting the deadline. An "A" assignment can become a "D" or "F" paper when handed in late. Penalties add up fast, and can be severe.
35. Not multitasking. The University of Minnesota Duluth says it short and sweet in their time management principles: combine activities. If you're waiting for something, study in the meantime.
36. Using someone’s work and not citing it. Your professors have access to Google, too. Very probably, they have spent many, many years reading papers on your paper's topic. Plagiarism usually results in a failing grade and academic probation at best,expulsion at worst.
37. Not backing up your paper. Use a hard drive and/or removable media such as a Flash memory stick. Feces happen, but they won’t if you take an extra five minutes to make a shelter from the storm.
38. Not getting enough rest. Learning and recall is directly tied to getting enough rest as well as eating properly and doing some excercise. If you're sluggish, you're unlikely to retain anything, no matter how lectures you attend.

Utilizing Resources
When classes get overwhelming, it's easy to forget that everything you need to succeed in college is already available.

39. Utilize your resources: attend seminars and labs. A good Teacher’s Assistant (TA) will likely be brimming over with tips on the proper mechanics of writing papers, insight on the professor’s marking scheme, and other useful information. Typically, a TA has already gone through what you are currently experiencing.
40. Utilize your resources, part two. After you’ve received your assignment, put the topic and the professor’s expectations into your own words, then privately ask (preferably on the same day your paper is assigned) the professor and TA if your paraphrase is correct. "But I thought you meant..." won’t wash after the papers have been marked.
41. Collaborate, don't copy. Your fellow students are resources, to bounce ideas of off. But don't copy nor give away all your ideas.
42. Collaborate, don't duplicate. If you have a team term paper, keep in mind that any group of people larger than 3 typically needs a functional head. Start by cross-pollinating ideas, then assign a lead to manage the tasks.
43. Get to know your university’s library. Not everything is on-line yet. You may find yourself using microfiche readers and digging through musty tomes in rooms you didn’t know the library had. Chances are your college library will have comprehensive research tutorials, programs and aids to familiarize yourself with the resource. Ask if you're unsure, and learn some basic library research techniques.
44. Digital journals. Many university/ college libraries have their journal subscriptions online, making it immensely easy for you to find the appropriate research material. If you are distance student, you may need a special modem link or password to get access. Having access means saving time photocopying stacks of journals.
45. Crisis Hotline. Call them, if you aren't feeling so good about things. They're trained to at least empathize with you, to help you through those down times we all go through. Dr Bob's unabridged student counseling virtual pamphlet collection has links to resources that can help if you are feeling angry, depressed or confused and don't feel like talking to anyone just yet.

General Tips
These are general tips to improve your general mental well being and memory retention, hence indirectly improving your chances at a better term paper grade.

46. Listen to Baroque music. Baroque style music is said to relax your heartbeat and improve memory recall.
47. Go to class. Professors often intentionally reveal information at the beginning and/or end of a lecture. This includes deadline changes, topic changes, bonus assignments and answers to questions.
48. Go to class, part 2. Attendance might be rewarded with points. Often, labs are. While this doesn't increase your term paper grade, having a few points for padding improves your subconscious confidence level.
49. Improve your memory. There are all sorts of efective memory techniques. Learn some.
50. Try mind maps. Mind maps are an easy but immensely powerful way to plot what you know about your paper's topic as well as what you need to know. There is free and inexpensive mindmapping software but manually drawn mind maps stimulate blood flow in the hand, on to the brain, and are more likely to spark inspiration and ideas.
51. Make friends. Many times, the "smartest" students don't do as well as more social students. If you can't make a class, try to befriend a classmate. Offer to swap notes.
52. Learn critical thinking. Critical thinking is a highly valuable analytical skill useful in all walks of life that generally goes untaught. There is more than one technique, but as a collective analytical tool, it can help you during the research collection stage of writing a term paper.
53. Talk to the teaching assistant. If you're too shy or unwilling (or whatever) to swap notes with another student or three, approach the teaching assistant. They are usually students themselves (though usually graduate) and know that other courses and labs can interfere with your making it to a class. They might fill you in on the missed lecture's notes or introduce you to a classmate.
54. Check the official course website. Many professors are publishing course notes online, somewhere on the college website. Occasionally, there's even audio recordings.
55. Try speedreading. Spreeder is a neat, free web tool that lets you paste in text and set reading speed. Speed reading is said to improve comprehension and retention. One key trick is not to vocalize words in your head while you read. Another is to read material at high speed, then reread at increasingly slower speeds as necessary, thereby improving retention. Technical topics are harder to absorb in general, and may require multiple reads.
56. Take a hiatus. Not sure a course is for you? Officially drop the course and try again some other time. The earlier you withdraw from a course the better. You may have time to change to an alternate course or get a refund, and your student average will not be affected.
57. Take a hiatus, part 2. Maybe you're just not ready for college. Or if you have to balance school with a job, an online education program may be more suitable.

Cure For Yellow Ribbon Patriotism

A man I once knew survived his tour of duty in Vietnam. In the privacy of a rented house trailer he drank alone until he finally had the “courage” to kill himself. I don’t know if he saw combat. He never said. I only assumed he had because when he spoke, what he said had the finality of a trigger pull. To my mind, there is only one way to acquire such certainty.

I only saw him on the weekends when he made beer runs for my high school buddies and me. We gave him a six-pack and ten minutes of our time for his trouble and then left him as we had found him, sitting at his kitchen table pulling on an unfiltered cigarette and sipping a lukewarm beer like he had all the time in the world.

I didn’t see him after high school and he was dead by the time I next thought to ask about him. I don’t know that he was a casualty of the war. He might have traveled the same road regardless of Vietnam. But then, he might not have.

Like most returning Vietnam vets before the release of the POW’s, he was not given a hero’s welcome. Hero was a term we seldom used back then; not like today when we toss it out like confetti on the deserving and the undeserving alike.

He came back instead to an indifferent, if not hostile, country. He and his fellow vets were slipped into the country singly or in small groups so as to diffuse throughout the population the “cure” they carried in their marrow, rendering it as ineffectual as a homeopathic dilution.

The “cure” these soldiers brought back from Vietnam was a potion distilled of moments: moments of bravery and sacrifice and sorrow, of bowel-loosening fear, of dehumanizing anger and hostility, of unasked and unanswered questions, moments too damaging to the soul to ever find release in confession.

It was a potion that if used thoughtfully could inoculate the nation against the disease of the god Mars. But it was ignored along with the soldiers. Vietnam vets, like the man I knew, were left to overdose on the potion in their own private hell.

The rally cry, “support our troops,” was born of a sincere desire to separate our feelings for the soldiers from our feelings for the war. It was meant as a mea culpa to the Vietnam veteran and a promise that we would never again make our soldiers the scapegoats for the machinations of the power elite. As a statement of concern for the wellbeing of the individual soldier, “support our troops” is unassailable.

But like the word hero, the vitality of the sentiment expressed by “support our troops” has been sapped by mindless iteration and the Machiavellian genius of warmongers. It has become little more than a patriotic platitude on par with, “God Bless America,” and a euphemism for “support our war.” As a balm to the national conscience for once again consigning our troops to the killing field, it is the battle cry that leads and sustains our country in an unjust war.

In a recent Military Times Poll, only 35 percent of our troops approved of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war, while only 23 percent believed Congress was looking out for them. The troops are telling us they do not feel supported by the politicians who sent them to the killing field for a dose of the “cure.”

Against the advise of both retired and active duty military leaders, President Bush’s new strategy for winning the war in Iraq is expected to include a “surge” of 20,000 to 40,000 additional troops to help quell the sectarian violence unleashed by the illegal invasion and botched occupation of that country.

A November 2006 survey by revealed that 72 percent of Iraqi Shias believe the presence of U.S. occupation forces only exacerbates an already lethal situation and wants them out of their country within the year, while 91percent of Sunnis approve of attacks on U.S troops.

Our troops, our top military leaders, and the Iraqi people are sending a clear message. It is time to for the U.S. to “cut and run.”

Yellow ribbon patriots finally have an opportunity to support our troops in a meaningful way. They can begin by removing their magnetic yellow ribbon bumper stickers, by listening to the troops and helping to get them home, and by demanding that those who took the country to war with lies and deception be held to account.

All Americans will continue to abdicate their responsibility to the living and the dead and the wounded troops if they are unwilling to inoculate themselves with the “cure” brought home from the killing field.
by Robert Weitzel

Public can purchase $100 laptop

The backers of the One Laptop Per Child project plan to release the machine on general sale next year.

But customers will have to buy two laptops at once - with the second going to the developing world.

Five million of the laptops will be delivered to developing nations this summer, in one of the most ambitious educational exercises ever undertaken.

Michalis Bletsas, chief connectivity officer for the project, said they were working with eBay to sell the machine.

"If we started selling the laptop now, we would do very good business," Mr Bletsas, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show, told BBC News.

"But our focus right now is on the launch in the developing world."


The laptop has been developed to be as low cost, durable and as simple to use as possible.

The eventual aim is to sell the machine to developing countries for $100 but the current cost of the machine is about $150.

The first countries to sign up to buying the machine, which is officially dubbed XO, include Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Thailand.

The XO's software has been designed to work specifically in an educational context. It has built-in wireless networking and video conferencing so that groups of children can work together.

The project is also working to ensure that children using the laptop around the world can be in contact.

"I'd like to make sure that kids all around the world start to communicate. It will be a very interesting experiment to see what will happen when we deploy a million laptops in Brazil and a million laptops in Namibia."


The OLPC project is working with Google who will act as "the glue to bind all these kids together".

Google will also help the children publish their work on the internet so that the world can observe the "fruits of their labour", said Mr Bletsas.

He said that the plan was to put the machine on sale to the general public "sometime next year".

"How to do that efficiently without adding to the cost is difficult," he said.

"We're discussing it with our partner eBay. We need to minimise supply chain cost , which is pretty high in the western world."

Philanthropic organisation

Mr Bletsas said that a philanthropic organisation would be formed to organise the orders and delivery of the laptops.

"It's much more difficult to do this than making the laptop," he said.

The aim is to connect the buyer of the laptop with the child in the developing world who receives the machine.

"The will get the e-mail address of the kid in the developing world that they have, in effect, sponsored."

Mr Bletsas was speaking amidst the festival of consumerism taking place on the show floor of CES.

He said he hoped that the laptop project would help children enrich their lives to the extent that one day they could become consumers of the types of technologies on display in Las Vegas.


But he castigated the industry for being unambitious in its plan to "connect the next billion people".

"They should look to connect the next five and a half billion.

"The way to do it is not to try and deploy tried and trusted technology but to try and develop technology specifically targeted to the developing world."

He said that OLPC was ensuring that laptops were being deployed to areas where there was internet access.

"We are trying to help the governments - that ranges from donating resources, to making sure that we work with them and that they don't consider the laptop as something that can work in a disconnected environment.

"It's vitally important that children are connected. My ambition is that we will get them connect to a vast amount of information that is unavailable to them.

"It will stimulate their interest in looking further - not waiting for some teacher or an adult."