Monday, December 28, 2009


China executed 1,718 people in 2008, according to Amnesty International. Last year 72% of the world's total executions took place in China, the charity estimates. It applies to 60 offences, including non-violent crimes such as tax fraud and embezzlement. Those sentenced to death are usually shot, but some provinces are introducing lethal injections.

Update on Kidnapped Cruisers - Paul and Rachel Chandler

Created by val. Last modified on 2009-12-17 20:51:35
Topic: Piracy Reports 2009

As reported by Ecoterra International, 16th December 2009

Paul and Rachel Chandler, the British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates, have pleaded with the government to “get us out by Christmas, by whatever means”.

The pair, taken captive from their yacht more than seven weeks ago, accused British officials of refusing to help secure their release. Three weeks ago, in a video appearance, they begged for the government to intervene, saying that they feared they might be killed within a matter of days.

However, in a telephone interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Chandler, 59, vented his despair at the lack of progress in negotiations, admitting: “We don’t think there’s much chance, seriously.” Mr Chandler, a retired quantity surveyor, said: “We have no knowledge of what is happening in Britain except that we have been told that the government has refused to become involved. “As far as we are concerned it is not a straightforward piracy business, it is a plain criminal kidnapping and ... should be approached with a rather different approach than the government uses. “When you have a criminal gang carrying out a kidnapping, the government should not be averse to negotiating with that gang and following it up with whatever means. I don’t think the government should step back and say ‘this is nothing to do with us’. “I would like to say to the British government: get us out by Christmas, by whatever means.”

Pirates seized the Chandlers on October 23 as the couple sailed from the Seychelles in their 38ft yacht Lynn Rival towards Tanzania. They were later taken on land in Somalia and are being constantly moved around, living in vehicles, as their captors make various hostage demands. It has since emerged that a Royal Navy warship manned by at least 10 Royal Marines and equipped with a helicopter were just 50 yards away but took no action as the pirates seized the couple.

The Ministry of Defence admitted that Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, had authorised the Royal Marines to intervene but it said it was the ship’s commander who decided it was unsafe to attempt a rescue.

In November, the couple appeared in a video being held at gunpoint by their captors as they pleaded for the government to negotiate their release. They warned that the kidnappers were “losing patience” and that they “won’t hesitate to take our lives”. The Sunday Times obtained the most recent interview with the couple through, “Omar”, a local journalist who travelled to the area where they are being held and allowed them to speak to the newspaper via his mobile phone.

The Foreign Office refuses to negotiate with hostage takers. A spokesman said: “We call for the release of Paul and Rachel. Our efforts are ongoing to secure the safe release of the couple. We are in close touch with the family.” Mr Chandler and his wife, a 55-year-old economist, retired about three years ago and have spent much of their time since sailing around the Indian Ocean. Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, has previously urged the pirates to release the couple, describing hostage-taking as "unacceptable".

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hulu and Warner Music Sign Deal For Music Content,2817,2356071,00.asp
by Chloe Albanesius

Hulu has struck a deal with EMI to feature content from the music label's artists on its Web site, the first of which will be singer Norah Jones.

The agreement will allow Hulu to show music videos and concerts from artists on several of EMI's labels, including Virgin, Capitol, and Blue Note.

The deal kicks off Wednesday, with high-definition video footage of Jones performing at New York City venue Le Poisson Rouge. Hulu also placed an interview with the singer on its blog.

"We think Hulu is an excellent, high-quality environment and a great place to connect with fans," Ronn Were, president of EMI Music Service and chief operating office for EMI Music North America, said in a statement. "We look forward to making more content available from other artists as well."

The Norah Jones page will also include other concerts in their entirety, including a Nashville show at the Ryman Auditorium, which featured appearances by Dolly Parton and Gillian Welch. Hulu will also post footage from her first tour in New Orleans, as well as all her music videos.

Jones' new album, "The Fall," will be released this week.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Colombia beefs up forces on border with Venezuela

The Colombian government has announced it is building a new military base on its border with Venezuela and has activated six new airborne battalions.

Relations between the two nations are at a historic low with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez already telling his generals to prepare for war.

He moved 15,000 more troops up to the border, accusing Colombia and its ally, the US, of planning an attack.

A BBC correspondent says the potential for conflict is heightened.

Colombian Defence Minister Gabriel Silva announced the formation of a new base in La Guajira in the north, near the Venezuelan border.

At the same time, the Colombian army activated the new airborne battalions, which are equipped with US helicopters.

The helicopter fleet, made up mainly of Blackhawks, now numbers 120, making the Colombian Army Air Corps the best equipped and most experienced in Latin America, the BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says.

Preparing for war

President Chavez has criticised a pact announced last month allowing US troops to use several bases in Colombia.

Mr Silva said that the new base would have up to 1,000 soldiers.

It would, he added, also have a care facility for indigenous Wayuu people who live in the area.

Since Venezuelans were told by Mr Chavez to prepare for war and the Venezuelan army starting blowing up bridges that link the two nations, Colombia has been overhauling its defence strategy.

Until now this strategy has been geared almost exclusively to fighting the country's 45-year Marxist insurgency.

With the increasing build-up of military on both sides of the border, the potential for conflict is heightened, particularly when one considers 2,000 rebels in the border region prepared for a fight between the two nations, our correspondent says.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scientists crack 'entire genetic code' of cancer

By Michelle Roberts
Health reporter, BBC News

Scientists have unlocked the entire genetic code of two of the most common cancers - skin and lung - a move they say could revolutionise cancer care.

Not only will the cancer maps pave the way for blood tests to spot tumours far earlier, they will also yield new drug targets, says the Wellcome Trust team.

Scientists around the globe are now working to catalogue all the genes that go wrong in many types of human cancer.

The UK is looking at breast cancer, Japan at liver and India at mouth.

China is studying stomach cancer, and the US is looking at cancers of the brain, ovary and pancreas.

These catalogues are going to change the way we think about individual cancers
Wellcome Trust scientist Professor Michael Stratton

The International Cancer Genome Consortium scientists from the 10 countries involved say it will take them at least five years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete this mammoth task.

But once they have done this, patients will reap the benefits.

Professor Michael Stratton, who is the UK lead, said: "These catalogues are going to change the way we think about individual cancers.

"By identifying all the cancer genes we will be able to develop new drugs that target the specific mutated genes and work out which patients will benefit from these novel treatments.

"We can envisage a time when following the removal of a cancer cataloguing it will become routine."

It could even be possible to develop MoT-style blood tests for healthy adults that can check for tell-tale DNA patterns suggestive of cancer.

Russian roulette

The scientists found the DNA code for a skin cancer called melanoma contained more than 30,000 errors almost entirely caused by too much sun exposure.

Most of the time the mutations will land in innocent parts of the genome, but some will hit the right targets for cancer
Wellcome Trust researcher Dr Peter Campbell

The lung cancer DNA code had more than 23,000 errors largely triggered by cigarette smoke exposure.

From this, the experts estimate a typical smoker acquires one new mutation for every 15 cigarettes they smoke.

Although many of these mutations will be harmless, some will trigger cancer.

Wellcome Trust researcher Dr Peter Campbell, who conducted this research, published in the journal Nature, said: "It's like playing Russian roulette.

"Most of the time the mutations will land in innocent parts of the genome, but some will hit the right targets for cancer."

By quitting smoking, people could reduce their cancer risk back down to "normal" with time, he said.

The suspicion is lung cells containing mutations are eventually replaced with new ones free of genetic errors.

By studying the cancer catalogues in detail, the scientists say it should be possible to find exactly which lifestyle and environmental factors trigger different tumours.

Treatment and prevention

Tom Haswell, who was successfully treated 15 years ago for lung cancer, believes the research will benefit the next generation:

"For future patients I think it's tremendous news because hopefully treatments can be targeted to their particular genome mutations, hopefully... reducing some of the side effects we get".

Cancer experts have applauded the work.

The Institute of Cancer Research said: "This is the first time that a complete cancer genome has been sequenced and similar insights into other cancer genomes are likely to follow.

"As more cancer genomes are revealed by this technique, we will gain a greater understanding of how cancer is caused and develops, improving our ability to prevent, treat and cure cancer."

Professor Carlos Caldas, from Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute called the research "groundbreaking".

"Like molecular archaeologists, these researchers have dug through layers of genetic information to uncover the history of these patients' disease.

"What is so new in this study is the researchers have been able to link particular mutations to their cause.

"The hope and excitement for the future is that we will eventually have detailed picture of how different cancers develop, and ultimately how better to treat and prevent them."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Video: Octopus snatches coconut and runs

I've adopted a similar posture when I realize I'm out of paper and have to go a foraging:

"Underwater footage reveals that the creatures scoop up halved coconut shells before scampering away with them so they can later use them as shelters."

Monday, December 14, 2009

First Super-Earths Discovered Orbiting Sun-Like Stars

ScienceDaily (Dec. 14, 2009) — An international team of planet hunters has discovered as many as six low-mass planets around two nearby Sun-like stars, including two "super-Earths" with masses 5 and 7.5 times the mass of Earth. The researchers, led by Steven Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said the two "super-Earths" are the first ones found around Sun-like stars.

"These detections indicate that low-mass planets are quite common around nearby stars. The discovery of potentially habitable nearby worlds may be just a few years away," said Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UCSC.

The team found the new planet systems by combining data gathered at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) in New South Wales, Australia. Two papers describing the new planets have been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

Three of the new planets orbit the bright star 61 Virginis, which can be seen with the naked eye under dark skies in the Spring constellation Virgo. Astronomers and astrobiologists have long been fascinated with this particular star, which is only 28 light-years away. Among hundreds of our nearest stellar neighbors, 61 Vir stands out as being the most nearly similar to the Sun in terms of age, mass, and other essential properties. Vogt and his collaborators have found that 61 Vir hosts at least three planets, with masses ranging from about 5 to 25 times the mass of Earth.

Recently, a separate team of astronomers used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to discover that 61 Vir also contains a thick ring of dust at a distance roughly twice as far from 61 Vir as Pluto is from our Sun. The dust is apparently created by collisions of comet-like bodies in the cold outer reaches of the system.

"Spitzer's detection of cold dust orbiting 61 Vir indicates that there's a real kinship between the Sun and 61 Vir," said Eugenio Rivera, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSC. Rivera computed an extensive set of numerical simulations to find that a habitable Earth-like world could easily exist in the as-yet unexplored region between the newly discovered planets and the outer dust disk.

According to Vogt, the planetary system around 61 Vir is an excellent candidate for study by the new Automated Planet Finder (APF) Telescope recently constructed at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose. "Needless to say, we're very excited to continue monitoring this system using APF," said Vogt, who is the principal investigator for the APF and is building a spectrometer for the new telescope that is optimized for finding planets.

The second new system found by the team features a 7.5-Earth-mass planet orbiting HD 1461, another near-perfect twin of the Sun located 76 light-years away. At least one and possibly two additional planets also orbit the star. Lying in the constellation Cetus, HD 1461 can be seen with the naked eye in the early evening under good dark-sky conditions.

The 7.5-Earth-mass planet, assigned the name HD 1461b, has a mass nearly midway between the masses of Earth and Uranus. The researchers said they cannot tell yet if HD 1461b is a scaled-up version of Earth, composed largely of rock and iron, or whether, like Uranus and Neptune, it is composed mostly of water.

According to Butler, the new detections required state-of-the-art instruments and detection techniques. "The inner planet of the 61 Vir system is among the two or three lowest-amplitude planetary signals that have been identified with confidence," he said. "We've found there is a tremendous advantage to be gained from combining data from the AAT and Keck telescopes, two world-class observatories, and it's clear that we'll have an excellent shot at identifying potentially habitable planets around the very nearest stars within just a few years."

The 61 Vir and HD 1461 detections add to a slew of recent discoveries that have upended conventional thinking regarding planet detection. In the past year, it has become evident that planets orbiting the Sun's nearest neighbors are extremely common. According to Butler, current indications are that fully one-half of nearby stars have a detectable planet with mass equal to or less than Neptune's.

The Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey Team led by Vogt and Butler uses radial velocity measurements from ground-based telescopes to detect the "wobble" induced in a star by the gravitational tug of an orbiting planet. The radial-velocity observations were complemented with precise brightness measurements acquired with robotic telescopes in Arizona by Gregory Henry of Tennessee State University.

"We don't see any brightness variability in either star," said Henry. "This assures us that the wobbles really are due to planets and not changing patterns of dark spots on the stars."

Due to improvements in equipment and observing techniques, these ground-based methods are now capable of finding Earth-mass objects around nearby stars, according to team member Gregory Laughlin, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UCSC.

"It's come down to a neck-and-neck race as to whether the first potentially habitable planets will be detected from the ground or from space," Laughlin said. "A few years ago, I'd have put my money on space-based detection methods, but now it really appears to be a toss-up. What is truly exciting about the current ground-based radial velocity detection method is that it is capable of locating the very closest potentially habitable planets."

The Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey Team has developed a publicly available tool, the Systemic Console, which enables members of the public to search for the signals of extrasolar planets by exploring real data sets in a straightforward and intuitive way. This tool is available online at

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA. In addition to Vogt, Butler, Rivera, Laughlin, and Henry, the coauthors of the 61 Vir paper include Rob Wittenmyer, C. G. Tinney, and Jeremy Bailey of the University of New South Wales; Simon O'Toole and Hugh Jones of the University of Hertfordshire; Stefano Meschiari of UCSC; Brad Carter of the University of Southern Queensland; and Konstantin Batygin of Caltech. The authors of the HD 1461 paper are Rivera, Butler, Vogt, Laughlin, Henry, and Meschiari.

Journal Reference:

1. Hugh R. Jones, R. Paul Butler, C. Tinney, Simon O%u2019Toole, Rob Wittenmyer, Gregory W. Henry, Stefano Meschiari, Steve Vogt, Euge- Nio Rivera, Greg Laughlin, Brad D. Carter, Jeremy Bailey, James S. Jenkins. A long-period planet orbiting a nearby Sun-like star. Astrophysical Journal, (in press)

China's President Hu Jintao

...2002 was promoted to power by Deng Xiaoping:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Google demonstrates quantum computer image search

Google's web services may be considered cutting edge, but they run in warehouses filled with conventional computers. Now the search giant has revealed it is investigating the use of quantum computers to run its next generation of faster applications.

Writing on Google's research blog this week, Hartmut Neven, head of its image recognition team, reveals that the Californian firm has for three years been quietly developing a quantum computer that can identify particular objects in a database of stills or video.

Google has been doing this, Neven says, with D-Wave, a Canadian firm that has developed an on-chip array of quantum bits – or qubits – encoded in magnetically coupled superconducting loops.

The team set themselves the challenge of writing an algorithm for the chip that could learn to recognise cars in photos, and reported at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in Vancouver, Canada, this week that they have succeeded.
Chasing cars

Using 20,000 photographs of street scenes, half of which contained cars and half of which didn't, they trained the algorithm to recognise what cars look like by hand-labelling all the cars with boxes drawn around them.

After that training, the algorithm was set loose on a second set of 20,000 photos, again with half containing cars. It sorted the images with cars from those without faster than an algorithm on a conventional computer could – faster than anything running in a Google data centre today, Neven says.

Classical computers use what is known as a von Neumann architecture, in which data is fetched from memory and processed according to rules defined in a program to generate results that are stored. It is pretty much a sequential process, though multiple versions of it can run in parallel to speed things up a little.

Quantum computers, however, promise much faster processing, by exploiting the principle of quantum superposition: that a particle such as an ion, electron or photon can be in two different states at the same time. While each basic "bit" of data in a conventional computer can be either a 1 or a 0 at any one time, a qubit can be both at once.
Quantum argument

D-Wave's Chimera chip launched to great media interest. But there has been some dispute over whether it is actually a quantum computer, which Neven acknowledges.

"It is not easy to demonstrate that a multi-qubit system such as the D-Wave chip exhibits the desired quantum behaviour, and physicists are still in the process of characterising it," he writes.

Google's quantum move is understandable, says Winfried Hensinger, reader in quantum, atomic and optical physics at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK.

"Quantum computing has the potential to make search problems much easier to solve – so it is no surprise that Google finds it extremely important to get involved in this emerging area," he says.

"I expect more and more companies to pursue research in quantum computing due to its vast potential not only in search but also for a multiplicity of other problems," he adds.

However, he expects that while questions remain over the exact capabilities of D-Wave's hardware, future developments will centre on different hardware. "It is widely accepted that trapped ions are the most successful implementation of quantum technology."

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

Friday, December 11, 2009

UK Pilot Program: The Pill Without Prescription

Package? Load? Well, then get a load of this package! When it absolutely has to get there overnight. Now, this is a truly public option:

Isn't the branding somewhat reminiscent of Liquid Plumber?

Target that impulse shopper!

But wait, there's more! Order now and we'll also throw in this no-fail-do-it-yourself kit, ABSOLUTELY FREE, Satisfaction guarunteed!!!


Twins? No problem!!

...aaaaand repeat. Rotisserie-style!

No wire coat hangers, Mommy Dearest...Not when you've got the Ronco Pocket Fisherman!

Now, take a whiff and guess which way the wind blows. Fresh from the UK.

COD, Visa or Master Plan accepted.

Wait. I think I'm onto something:

I mean, it's got that starburst and loud letters.

Oh, what the hell, France may be keen on differentiating between religions and cults, but I say one brand to rule them all. We're America, damn it!

And it's got kind of an Italic effect, right?

Italics. Impulse.
At the check out, in your car, captive audience, yes we are.

And, yes we can.

And, mission accomplished. And, I invented the internet. And, I did not inhale.

So, who needs a mammogram anyway? They're just dangerous and expensive.

UK Pilot Program: The Pill Without Prescription

Package? Load? Well, then get a load of this package! When it absolutely has to get there overnight:

I just can't decide. Is the branding more reminiscent of Liquid Plumber or Pepto Bismol (oh, what a relief it is, fast, fast, fast)?

...certainly targets the impulse shopper:

But wait! There's more! Order now and we'll also throw in this no-fail-do-it-yourself kit, ABSOLUTELY FREE, Satisfaction guarunteed!!!


Twins? No problem!!!

...aaaaand repeat. Rotisserie-style!

No wire coat hangers, Mommy Dearest...Not when you've got the Ronco Pocket Fisherman!

Now, take a whiff and guess which way the wind blows. Fresh from the UK.

COD, Visa or Master Plan Accepted.

Wait. I think I'm onto something:

I mean, it's got that starburst and loud letters.

Oh, what the hell, France may be keen on differentiating between religions and cults, but I say one brand to rule them all. We're America, damn it! And it's got kind of an italics effect, right?

Impulse. At the check out, in your car, captive audience, yes we are.

And, yes we can.

And, mission accomplished. And, I invented the internet. And, I did not inhale.

So, who needs a mammogram anyway? They're just dangerous and expensive.

Britain, Long a Libel Mecca, Reviews Laws

Published: December 10, 2009

LONDON — England has long been a mecca for aggrieved people from around the world who want to sue for libel. Russian oligarchs, Saudi businessmen, multinational corporations, American celebrities — all have made their way to London’s courts, where jurisdiction is easy to obtain and libel laws are heavily weighted in favor of complainants.

Hannes Gissurarson, a professor at the University of Iceland, was sued over remarks that he posted on the University’s website.

Embarrassed by London’s reputation as “a town called sue” and by unusually stinging criticisms in American courts and legislatures, British lawmakers are seriously considering rewriting England’s 19th-century libel laws.

A member of the House of Lords is preparing a bill that would, among other things, require foreigners to demonstrate that they have suffered actual harm in England before they can sue here.

English libel law is the opposite of America’s in many ways. In the United States, the plaintiff, or accuser, must prove that the statement in question was false; public officials must also prove that it was made maliciously, with “reckless disregard” for the truth.

In England (Scotland has its own system), the burden of proof rests on the defendant, whose statements are presumed false and who has to establish that they are true.

It is not only news organizations that are running afoul of the law. Environmentalists, anticorruption campaigners, medical researchers and soccer fans posting criticisms of their teams on blogs have all been sued or threatened with legal action in recent years.

The justice secretary, Jack Straw, said recently that he was alarmed about “libel tourism.” And in the House of Commons, a committee has listened to a parade of witnesses denounce the current law as perverse, unfair, prohibitively expensive, contemptuous of free speech and an anachronism in an age when access to articles on foreign Web sites can be obtained anywhere.

“We all have substantial and increasing concern at the potential of the English law of defamation to affect our work unjustly and oppressively,” a consortium of foreign newspapers, publishers and human rights organizations, including The New York Times, said in a statement to the committee.

Noting that “one ‘hit’ in England is enough for a multimillion-pound libel action in London,” the statement called England’s libel laws “repugnant to U.S. constitutional principles.” It said that because of the threat of costly lawsuits, some American newspapers were considering abandoning distribution here and installing firewalls to block access to their Web sites in England.

More than 20,000 people, including Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, have signed a petition saying that the laws “discourage argument and debate” and have no place in scientific disputes.

“It’s quicker and easier and simpler to apologize and settle,” said Simon Singh, the author of “Fermat’s Enigma,” who, having refused to apologize or settle, is battling the British Chiropractic Association over an editorial he wrote for The Guardian accusing the group of promoting “bogus treatments.”

Despite the law, or even because of it, some British newspapers have a deserved reputation for irresponsible journalism.

“We have a vicious, aggressive press here,” Nigel Tait, a partner at Carter-Ruck, a law firm that often represents plaintiffs in libel suits, wrote recently. “It’s all great — until someone writes something false about you.”

Because it can be expensive and traumatic to pursue a case, aggrieved parties like minor celebrities may be reluctant to sue. As a result, the scandal-sheet tabloids tend to focus on them rather than on the rich and powerful.

“I have a friend who is the editor of a national newspaper whose board has said to him, ‘Don’t take on the oligarchs; we simply cannot afford it,’ ” said John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, which, along with English PEN, a group that promotes literature and human rights, recently produced a report on libel.

A number of states, including New York, have passed legislation making English libel rulings difficult to enforce in American courts. Congress is considering similar legislation.

The catalyst for the New York law was the case of the American scholar Rachel Ehrenfeld, who was sued in the English courts by a Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz, after she accused him of channeling money to Al Qaeda in her book “Funding Evil.”

The book sold just 23 copies in England, but that was deemed sufficient to allow Mr. Mahfouz to bring his case here. Ms. Ehrenfeld, who refused to participate in the case or submit to the court’s jurisdiction, was ordered in a default judgment to pay him more than $225,000.

Other cases seem even more strange. Hannes Gissurarson, a professor at the University of Iceland, was sued here by Jon Olafsson, an Icelandic businessman, over critical remarks that Mr. Gissurarson had posted on the university’s Web site five years earlier.

Mr. Gissurarson was ordered to pay £55,000, worth about $89,500 at current rates, to Mr. Olafsson, who had moved to London. But the case was thrown out when it emerged that the British Consulate in Reykjavik had improperly served the initial legal papers.

In a farcical riposte, Mr. Olafsson then sued the Foreign Office, winning several hundred thousand pounds in a judgment this fall.

In another case, NMT Medical, a company in Boston, has sued a British cardiologist over criticisms he made about a clinical trial of one of its products at a conference in Washington in 2007.

An article about the issue was subsequently posted on an American medical news site on the Internet. The cardiologist, Dr. Peter Wilmshurst, said that NMT’s lawyers then warned him that unless he retracted his statements, they would sue.

He refused. “What I said about the trial is, in my view, true,” he said in an interview.

“I feel I have an ethical responsibility not to falsify data,” he said.

Rick Davis, NMT’s chief operating officer, said that the company had taken action because Dr. Wilmshurst had “accused NMT of research fraud, and done it in a malicious manner.”

In similar circumstances, many would-be defendants, fearing financial ruin, simply remove the offending comments from the Internet as soon as they receive lawyers’ warning letters.

Legal fees can be dauntingly expensive. Mr. Gissurarson spent £100,000 on his case and had to sell his house. Dr. Wilmshurst has spent about the same amount, and counting.

Global Witness, which campaigns on environmental and human rights issues, spent £50,000 in less than a week deflecting the efforts of Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, son of the president of the Congo Republic, to force it to remove from its Web site a report accusing him of using national oil revenues to finance lavish spending sprees.

“It hasn’t discouraged us,” Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness, said. “But a protracted case could bankrupt an organization.”

“Even if a plaintiff is completely in the wrong,” he said, “they could break you.”

Iraq oil development rights contracts awarded

A joint venture between the UK's Shell and Malaysia's Petronas oil companies has won the right to develop Iraq's giant Majnoon oil field.

A total of 44 companies are bidding for 10 fields in the second such auction since the invasion in 2003.

Shell and Petronas beat a rival bid from France's Total and China's CNPC.

Although Majnoon is a huge oil field, with reserves of 13 billion barrels of oil, it currently produces just 46,000 barrels per day.

Shell and Petronas have pledged to increase that output to 1.8 million barrels per day.

Their venture will receive a fee of $1.39 a barrel. In June this year, a winning bid to develop an Iraq oil field received $2 a barrel.

Foreign expertise

Also on Friday, a consortium led by China's CNPC was awarded the contract for Iraq's Halfaya oil field. The consortium also includes Malaysia's Petronas and France's Total.

It requested fees of $1.40 a barrel of oil extracted from the field, and projected output would reach 535,000 barrels per day.

Halfaya, in southern Iraq near the border with Iran, is a much smaller field with reserves of 4.1 billion barrels of oil.

Iraq needs the expertise of foreign companies in order to reach its goal of reviving its oil industry, which has been battered by years of war and sanctions.

The country has a daily output of about 2.4 million barrels, but aims to triple that over the next few years.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Whiteboard animation, Dave the Chimp, etc.

...was scanning around for white board animation and found the following by Kristofer Ström:

I had seen this one a while ago:

Commercial application:

More about Kristofer Ström:


Another great artist, Dave the Chimp - begin here:

The artist's website:

Click here for video overview featuring the artist:

Here's a self portrait loop, also in the film above:

...and a music video:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

'Miracle mouse' can grow back lost limbs

Original article was from 2005:

Jonathan Leake, Science Editor
(an old favorite article recovered from my other blog collection, 2005)
SCIENTISTS have created a “miracle mouse” that can regenerate amputated limbs or badly damaged organs, making it able to recover from injuries that would kill or permanently disable normal animals.

The experimental animal is unique among mammals in its ability to regrow its heart, toes, joints and tail.

The researchers have also found that when cells from the test mouse are injected into ordinary mice, they too acquire the ability to regenerate.

The discoveries raise the prospect that humans could one day be given the ability to regenerate lost or damaged organs, opening up a new era in medicine.

Details of the research will be presented next week at a scientific conference on ageing, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, at Cambridge University. Ellen Heber-Katz, professor of immunology at the Wistar Institute, an American biomedical research centre, says that the ability of mice at her laboratory to regenerate appears to be controlled by about a dozen genes.

She is still researching their exact functions, but it seems almost certain that humans have comparable genes.

“We have experimented with amputating or damaging several different organs, such as the heart, toes, tail and ears, and just watched them regrow,” she said. “It is quite remarkable. The only organ that did not grow back was the brain.

“When we injected foetal liver cells taken from those animals into ordinary mice, they too gained the power of regeneration. We found this persisted even six months after the injection.”

Heber-Katz made her discovery when she noticed that the identification holes that scientists punch in the ears of experimental mice healed without any signs of scarring.

The self-healing mice, from a strain known as MRL, were then subjected to a series of surgical procedures. In one the mice had their toes amputated — but the digits grew back, complete with joints.

In another test some of the tail was cut off but also regenerated. Then the researchers used a cryoprobe to freeze parts of the animals’ hearts, only to see these grow back again. A similar phenomenon was observed when the optic nerve was severed and the liver partially destroyed.

Heber-Katz will describe some of her findings at the Cambridge conference and plans to publish her results in a research paper. “We have found that the MRL mouse seems to have a higher rate of cell division,” she said. “Its cells live and die faster and get replaced faster. That seems to be linked to the ability to regenerate.”

The researchers suspect that the same genes could confer greater longevity and are measuring the animals’ survival rate. The mice are, however, only 18 months old and the normal lifespan is two years so it is too early to reach conclusions.

Scientists have long known that less complex creatures have an impressive ability to regenerate. Many fish and amphibians can regrow internal organs or even whole limbs.

Humans can regenerate their liver provided at least a quarter remains intact, as well as their blood and outer skin, but no other organs regrow.

This is probably because, although most mammalian cells start off with the potential to develop into any cell type, they soon become very specialised. This allows mammals to develop more complex brains and bodies but deprives them of the power of regeneration.

By contrast, if a newt loses a limb then cells around the injury revert back into so-called stem cells. These can develop into whatever types of cell are needed, including bone, skin or nerves.

Animation worth seeing

This animation produced by Ernest Pintoff is damn funny:

I found 2 more animated clips produced by Ernest Pintoff.

This one is a great visual translation of personality: ’Square meets hip’ in this animation called ’The Interview’:

The voice track is of Henry Jacobs:

Animation by Vinnie Bell, Al Chiarito
Also very interesting to read the origins of ’hipster’ on wiki.

The other animation from 1965, also with animation by Vinnie Bell, is called’Safety Shoes’:
Article included, along with more on the ’Interview’ animation.

I found more on Vinnie Bell - aka Vincent Bell by googling.
Credits on indb go back as far as 1959 when he was animating on "The Deputy Dawg Show", and as recent as 2007 on Saturday Night Live. He at one time was working with Ralph Bakshi.

Totally unrelated but very funny, Mike L. Mayfield was an animator on King of the Hill, and runs the site

The first animation I saw by Mike is The Lollipop Tree which was inspired by an audio tape he found in a dumpster behind a church.

Mike also creates a commercial spoof called "Uncle Hell"
Search youtube for Citizens Against Safety Goggles and then follow Uncle Hell for more episodes, starting here:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Obama Ecstasy pills

PALMVIEW, Texas - President Barack Obama's approval rating may be hovering in the 50 percent range, but that doesn't mean America's Commander-in-Chief isn't catching on with new constituents.

There is now a line of Ecstasy pills made in the image of the 44th president of the United States, according to Texas police who have snatched a batch off the streets.

Photo Gallery: Obama Ecstasy pills

Ecstasy is known for a sense of elation, diminished feelings of fear and anxiety, and ability to induce a sense of intimacy with others.

Perhaps a good Election Day strategy to get out the vote?

A stash of the brightly colored tablets was found Monday during a south Texas traffic stop.

Police in Palmview detained a driver after finding black tar heroin, cocaine, marijuana and several Ecstasy pills in the back of his car.

The drugs look like a "vitamin for kids," police spokesman Lenny Sanchez said.

Police say that other Ecstasy pills they found were made to look like the cartoon characters Homer Simpson and the Smurfs.

The 22-year-old driver is expected to face felony drug possession counts.

Palmview is near the border with Mexico.

No word on the driver's political affiliation.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Emotiv Brainwave Technology for Gaming;icJbOR6Fv5AvztDu33FTcyrJUzm67AGlDkXuim5ZDb96gfqkgd;20091201_PCA_Dell_102381_Dec

A demonstration of Emotiv in 2008

Future tech: Interview with Emotiv co-founder Nam Do, and the science behind mind control
by Daniel Long on Dec 3, 2009

Controlling computers with our minds may sound like science fiction, but one Australian company is doing just that. Daniel Long spoke to co-founder Nan Do about the inner workings of the Emotiv technology

Emotiv Systems co-founder and CEO Nam Do is an excitable type of guy. Easy-going and bubbling with energy, he's been doing the talk circuit for a while now, spruiking the wonders of the company's EPOC device - a device that's gained attention for its potential to let gamers control their PCs with their thoughts.

The Emotiv device has been garnering attention at trade shows and conferences for several years, and now the company says it is set to launch the Emotiv EPOC headset on December 21. The Emotiv site lists the price at US$299, and says the product will be available to US customers only.

So what exactly is Emotiv's vision for the groundbreaking device, and does it live up to the hype? With Nam Do in Sydney to present the first public Australian demonstration of Emotiv at the X-Media-Lab's Sydney "Global Media Cultures" event at the Sydney Opera House, we sat down with him to talk about the technology.

While the technology certainly looks exciting, mind control is not all smooth sailing, as we discovered. Last year Emotiv's technology has suffered a technical mishap before in public demonstrations, as this video shows.

This time round, there were also technical problems when Emotiv tried to demonstrate using the device with a Harry Potter game.

Challenges such as latency are also sure to be thorny issues for gamers seeking maximum speed during their gameplay. And Emotiv isn't the only company keen to push mind control technology. OCZ and NeuroSky are also present in the market, albeit with limited neuro sensors.

Still, there's no doubt that Nan believes in Emotiv and it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement surrounding this futuristic-looking device and its many potential applications. Nan was gracious enough not to hold back with his answers. He even hinted at a relationship with Hollywood, including James Cameron's upcoming Avatar.

PC Authority: There are many technical challenges that have been holding back the technology. Are you waiting for computing power or software development to catch up?

Nam Do: I think the biggest challenge now is the signal processing part of it. EEG has been around for 80 years, but the EEG community hit a road block a long time ago and is not progressing anywhere.

We try to use a totally different approach when using signal processing. We take electrical impulses from the sensor and try to put together an image in a roughly 90,000 dimensional space and we try to classify it.

So every time you think about particular actions or you feel particular feelings, it has the same pattern - so that's why the computer knows how to do it. One of the biggest challenges is that the cerebral cortex is folded individually. It's like a fingerprint. Your cortex is different with mine.

Even if we're lucky enough to find a signal that is exactly the same that comes from deep inside the brain, by the time it projects from the skull it looks random. So the first very big breakthrough that scientists at Emotiv be able to do, is to remap that signal back to its source. That's the first breakthrough that allows us to unlock the brain.

PC Authority: Let's look at the development path. Six years ago you began and today you've shown your first Australian public demonstration. You're going to retail in two or three weeks...?

Nam Do: Yes, in three weeks

PC Authority: Has the product been released in the US yet?

Nam Do: The SDK (software development) has been out for a couple of months now. But the consumer [product] - not yet.

PC Authority: You're launching with some games, one of the ones we saw today. Are there any big titles that Emotiv will be compatible with? Or will that be something for the future?

Nam Do: Alright, what I wasn't able to before, was show an existing game.

PC Authority: Unfortunately, that's probably what a lot of people were interested in.

Nam Do: Yeah, because of the AV system

PC Authority: The graphics resolution?

Nam Do: Yeah [laughs]. But what we will be able to do with the software is called emo-key, which is basically a keyboard emulator. So you'll be able to use the headset with any compatible games.

PC Authority: That's a really big step I think. From my understanding, people who want to buy this, they'll want to play this with a lot of games, not just one or two games.

Nam Do: Absolutely. Even with the existing games they have at home, like Harry Potter, it's a completely different experience.

PC Authority: We've heard about "mind reading" technologies before. Why haven't they taken off yet do you think?

Nam Do: First of all commercially, there's not many people who commit resources like ourselves. So in the market there's only two or maximum three other commercial companies that are trying to do this.

But they are more interested in creating a gadget that takes the existing research, like the alpha and beta waves to try and push an object - so it's not really thought reading per se'. What we do is classify different thoughts and expressions.

PC Authority: So, mind reading isn't technically correct then? Is it reading the actual mind or the relationship between those thoughts and actions?

Nam Do: The brain has billions of neurons. Every time you think or you feel, neurons interact with each other. But when neurons interact with each other, they naturally emit electrical impulses - very small electrical impulses. So, if you're able to measure those impulses and be able to put it into a map for a computer to understand, then you see the relationship between those electrical pictures and your thoughts in reality. If the guy is trying to pull an object, then the computer knows the guy is trying to do that, just by reading the impulses.

PC Authority: I'm sure this isn't indicative of the software, but when I watched the demonstration today, I noticed the volunteer had a great deal of trouble trying to move the rock.

Nam Do: Yes, that's actually a mistake that new users make. When they move, then tense up. You have to understand that this is totally a new way of interaction, as you're not used to thinking about it moving and seeing it move - so you normally associate that with a physical action. So your body tenses its muscles up. But that doesn't actually help - it's a bad thing for it. If you're more relaxed and just think about it - it will do it.

For example, it's very easy for me to do it. I just think about it moving and it moves. The more relaxed you are, the better.

PC Authority: So, I assume that the training for the software is very important then? How long would it take for a first time user like we saw today, get to the point where they can play an existing game and be as good at that game as they are with their regular keyboard?

Nam Do: One training session is about 8 seconds and he (the volunteer) did one training session today. So normally within a couple of training sessions, around two to three - you'd be able to control one action pretty well.

And if you want to add actions on top of that, it takes more practice. Normally, in the context of a game, it's perfect. Because normally you don't straight away know 10 different actions and you learn one action at a time and when you master one, you move onto another. Within 10 minutes, anybody can do two or three actions easy [with the Emotiv].

PC Authority: The game we saw demonstrated today was an RPG. Would Emotiv technology work with FPS games as well?

Nam Do: It can, but the thing is I don't think it would make that much sense. Right now, the technology is not at that stage. Because before people see it, they think it's crap, but when they actually see it, they think "Wow! Okay I'm going to think left and its going to move left straight away". You're basically looking at the computer in the 70s. It's going to take years.

PC Authority: Is that where we are right now? Looking at a computer in the 70s?

Nam Do: I think so, I think so. We're looking at the tip of the iceberg. We're looking at the computer of the 70s. Everybody knows this is going to be awesome in the future and do a lot of things, but it's not there yet, just as you couldn't expect photo realistic graphics on the computer in the 70's. So the answer is no. It's mainly because of two things. One is the latency.

PC Authority: That's what I noticed, there was quite a bit of lag on screen.

Nam Do: The actual technological latency is actually 150 milliseconds - which is already very large for a first person shooter. But then there is the time for you to separate between different thoughts.

PC Authority: In the context of a first person shooter game, you have emotions such as fear or stress that would also have to be dealt with by the brain....

Nam Do: ...Yes, you can put that layer into a game. Lots of people are doing that now. A game like Fear for example can sense when people are calm and you could know exactly when the moment to scare somebody.

PC Authority: That could be very cool. There's a huge gaming potential there.

Nan Do: Yes, because right now, games like Fear are only good the first time you play it. The second time you know that little girl will appear after the door. Now with this, the AI of the computer knows that you're expecting it and the girl won't show up in the same way.

PC Authority: It reads the stress levels...

Nam Do: Yep.

PCA: Would you then need something connected to your pulse to read those stress levels?

Nam Do: No, not at all. Everything is coming from the brain - it's actually a lot faster. The pulse and skin conductance has about a 4 second delay.

PCA: So, will this be available for all platforms or just the PC?

Nam Do: The first stage is the PC. We're going to move to other platforms later. We're not Microsoft (laughs). So we don't have the kind of money and resources to make it all at once.

PC Authority: Many people must talk to you about making apps for people disabilities, particularly those lacking mobility. How do you see your company working in those areas?

Nam Do: We're already working with a lot of people, to make applications for disabled people. There are quite a few applications we're [already] seeing from independent developers just trying to create these things.

For example, some of these people can't even move. So things like the keyboard are very important. Just by thinking about it, they can put words together and start to communicate.

PC Authority: I think that's amazing. It's great to have the gaming part, but that could really transform people's lives.

Nam Do: Absolutely. Even though gaming has a lot of following, you don't realise that when you're talking about the community at large - a lot of the applications are non-gaming. Like medical or healthcare applications.

For example, university researchers and doctors are currently working on applications to treat depression and addiction - without drugs. It's a state of brain. You fall into it and stay in it. So now if you could predict that, you could have different brain exercises to keep you out of that mindset.

PC Authority: Stage one is the PC. Could Emotiv work with other devices? Televisions, mobile phones, those types of things.

Nam Do: Yes. People like Samsung are doing it as well. Controlling small things like light switches. They have applications they're working on in hospital for example, for patients in a coma. So they know exactly how the body feels. The idea is to know how they feel. It will start with applications like that and slowly go into everyday life.

PC Authority: And finally, there have been rumours about you're been working on James Cameron's Avatar? What's happening with that at the moment?

Nam Do: I'm not sure if I can tell you actually. But in general, directors are looking at it as a new method of doing focus testing. Right now everybody knows the problem with focus testing is that when somebody says the movie is shit, even though everybody likes it - they won't say it.

PC Authority: When we talk about focus testing, we're talking about general members of the public who review the film first right? The ones who write a score at the end of films before they're released? So if they really hate it, the directors will want to know why or how they hate it?

Nam Do: And how they feel when they hate something in the film.

PC Authority: And at the exact moment in the movie...

Nam Do: Right. What I didn't show today is a graph of how people feel as they engage in the game; with their own level of excitement during the game.

So if you were to overlay that graph with a movie, you could see if the director wanted people to feel excited in those scenes, or if it's not happening, then they could go back and reshoot them. And if it's too boring for the audience, they know too. It's the same with video games. But with video games, you could do it on the fly. It's called Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment.

PC Authority: So in the movie focus testing example, each person in the audience would be wearing an Emotiv headset then? And that would be connected to a central computer?

Nam Do: Yes, every person would have a small computer that they record it with. We collect the data, then overlay it with the movie so the director can look at the movie and plot it as one average, as a graph for everyone or plot it into different age groups or any other things they may want to do with it. But the director doesn't want any interpretation. They just want the raw data and they can decipher it for themselves.

PC Authority: Based on everything we've spoken about today, do you think Emotiv will change the world?

Nam Do: We hope so. That's exactly the reason why we started doing this. I mean, as you know, it's been six years of our life to get to this point. And it's going to be a long way to go.

PC Authority: So from sci-fi to reality, it looks like it's going to be quite a ride. Thanks for your time.

Nam Do: Thank you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Somali sea gangs lure investors at pirate lair

By Mohamed Ahmed

HARADHEERE, Somalia (Reuters) - In Somalia's main pirate lair of Haradheere, the sea gangs have set up a cooperative to fund their hijackings offshore, a sort of stock exchange meets criminal syndicate.

Heavily armed pirates from the lawless Horn of Africa nation have terrorized shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and strategic Gulf of Aden, which links Europe to Asia through the Red Sea.

The gangs have made tens of millions of dollars from ransoms and a deployment by foreign navies in the area has only appeared to drive the attackers to hunt further from shore.

It is a lucrative business that has drawn financiers from the Somali diaspora and other nations -- and now the gangs in Haradheere have set up an exchange to manage their investments.

One wealthy former pirate named Mohammed took Reuters around the small facility and said it had proved to be an important way for the pirates to win support from the local community for their operations, despite the dangers involved.

"Four months ago, during the monsoon rains, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 'maritime companies' and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking," Mohammed said.

"The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity."

Haradheere, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Mogadishu, used to be a small fishing village. Now it is a bustling town where luxury 4x4 cars owned by the pirates and those who bankroll them create honking traffic jams along its pot-holed, dusty streets.

Somalia's Western-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is pinned down battling hard-line Islamist rebels, and controls little more than a few streets of the capital.

The administration has no influence in Haradheere -- where a senior local official said piracy paid for almost everything.

"Piracy-related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area and as locals we depend on their output," said Mohamed Adam, the town's deputy security officer.

"The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools."


In a drought-ravaged country that provides almost no employment opportunities for fit young men, many are been drawn to the allure of the riches they see being earned at sea.

Abdirahman Ali was a secondary school student in Mogadishu until three months ago when his family fled the fighting there.

Given the choice of moving with his parents to Lego, their ancestral home in Middle Shabelle where strict Islamist rebels have banned most entertainment including watching sport, or joining the pirates, he opted to head for Haradheere.

Now he guards a Thai fishing boat held just offshore.

"First I decided to leave the country and migrate, but then I remembered my late colleagues who died at sea while trying to migrate to Italy," he told Reuters. "So I chose this option, instead of dying in the desert or from mortars in Mogadishu."

Haradheere's "stock exchange" is open 24 hours a day and serves as a bustling focal point for the town. As well as investors, sobbing wives and mothers often turn up there seeking news of male relatives missing in action.

Every week, Mohammed said, gang members and equipment were lost to the sea. But he said the pirates were not deterred.

"Ransoms have even increased in recent months from between $2-3 million to $4 million because of the increased number of shareholders and the risks," he said.

"Let the anti-piracy navies continue their search for us. We have no worries because our motto for the job is 'do or die'."

Piracy investor Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old divorcee, was lined up with others waiting for her cut of a ransom pay-out after one of the gangs freed a Spanish tuna fishing vessel.

"I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation," she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony.

"I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'."

(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Porn Orchard Videos - Chameleon Club, Athens, GA 1992

Porn Orchard videos edited and posted to youtube by Curtiss Pernice who says:

"...salvaged from VHS tapes...Included were two music videos (Ted basically put them both together) and a full tape of our last show here in Athens(Chameleon Club, 1992)...had em dumped to DVD, then spent two weeks pulling my hair out editing them and synching the sound...posted to YouTube last weekend."

Click and go to "playlists":

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Scientology Charged With Slavery, Human Trafficking

Tuesday, December 01, 2009Last Update: 11:03 AM PT

Man Says Scientologists Enslaved Him as Boy

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A man claims the Church of Scientology forced him to work as a "virtual slave" for 16 years at jobs ranging from washing pots and pans to restoring old films produced by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. John Lindstein says he was kept "busy, poor, tired, and uninformed" by Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige at the church's ranch in Hemet, and feared that "things would get even worse if he did not work as ordered."
Lindstein's Superior Court complaint alleges human trafficking and violations of hour and wage laws at the church's "Gold Ranch" compound near Hemet, a semirural area east-southeast of Los Angeles.
Lindstein says that from 1990 until 2006, starting when he was just 8 years old, he "performed this work as a virtual slave, working 16 to 24 hours days with no sleep, no time off and no personal freedom" at Gold Base, a mysterious and once-secret headquarters that "resembles a prison camp," with razor wire, security guard patrols, surveillance posts and three roll calls each day.
By age 16, Lindstein says, he was working for Golden Era Productions, Scientology's film production company, restoring Hubbard's films from the 1970s. He says he often worked 24-hour days at the "tedious, frame-by-frame work that would normally cost more than $400,000 per movie to accomplish at industry rates."
Lindstein and his crew of five were paid $50 per week, he says.
Lindstein says Miscavige and others "intentionally, consciously and wrongfully made a tactical decision to ignore labor laws, take [their] chances with a compliant and intimidated work force, and hope that the running of the statute of limitations would in the long run save [them] millions of dollars."
Lindstein says that Miscavige "runs the Scientology enterprise with an iron fist, according to his own rules, and enjoys the lifestyle and job benefits of royalty while those at the bottom of the food chain live like slaves and inmates."
Those who tried to escape from Gold Ranch and were caught were assigned to the "Rehabilitation Project Force," in which workers faced "a brutal regime of manual labor, have no freedom of movement and are subjected to almost total deprivations of personal liberties," according to the complaint.
Church of Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw said the church would not comment on the allegations.
"The complaint filed by John Lindstein against the Church of Scientology International and others has not been served," Pouw said. "We do not comment on cases to which we are not a party."
In his complaint, Lindstein says he was eventually "pushed to his breaking point and he found a way out."
He says he has since been "declared an enemy of Scientology, given a large illegal bill for his purported scientology training, and cut off from friends and family who are still under the control of the Scientology enterprise."
Lindstein wants the church to pay him at least minimum wage for his years of work. He is represented by Barry Von Sickle of Roseville, Calif.

Formal complaint here:

Monday, November 30, 2009

Russia building arms plants in Venezuela
11.30.09, 07:51 PM EST
VENEZUELA-ARMS/RUSSIA:Russia building arms plants in Venezuela

By Walker Simon

CARACAS (Reuters) - Russia is building arms plants in Venezuela to produce AK-103 automatic rifles and cartridges and is finalizing contracts to send 53 military helicopters to the Andean nation, Moscow's envoy to Venezuela saidMonday.
Article Controls

Ambassador Vladmir Zaemskiy told a news conference that Russian engineers and Venezuelan construction firms were building the rifle and cartridge plants which, when operational, would employ more than 1,500 workers.

He gave no completion date for the plants under construction in the central state of Aragua.

Details about Moscow's military shipments and projects have been scarce since socialist President Hugo Chavez's government began signing military agreements with Russia back in 2001.

In recent years, Venezuela has bought over $4 billion in weapons from Russia, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets. Critics say Caracas is fueling an arms race in Latin America. Chavez says he is modernizing the military for defensive purposes.

British Couple Held by Pirates Fear They Will be Killed

Anyone remember news about a British couple being held hostage by Somali pirates? Paul and Rachel Chandler were captured on Oct. 22, 2009 and made headlines for a couple of weeks, but I had to dig for the latest update, dated Nov. 20, 2009. Somalia has not had a functioning government for 18 years:

History and info on Mogadishu:

Reminded me about the film Black Hawk Down directed by Ridley Scott:

Currently recognized UN backed govt.

LONDON — A British couple being held hostage by Somali pirates said in an interview broadcast Friday that they fear they will be killed or handed to a terrorist group if a ransom is not paid soon.,2933,576031,00.html

Paul and Rachel Chandler were kidnapped by pirates on Oct. 22, who seized their 38-foot yacht — the Lynn Rival.

In an interview with Britain's Channel 4 news program, the Chandlers are seen surrounded by armed men, some of whom have their guns pointed directly at the retired couple.

"I have no doubt that they will not hesitate to kill us in a week or so from now," Paul Chandler, 59, said in the interview, filmed by a Channel 4 crew on Wednesday.

Britain's ITN — which produces Channel 4 News — said the Chandlers and their relatives had agreed that the footage, the first of the couple since their capture, could be aired.

Pirates have demanded $7 million to release the Chandlers, but Britain's government insists it won't pay ransoms to kidnappers.

"We are under threat and we are told that we will not be fed and given water, so we are very concerned about the future," Rachel Chandler, 55, said in the video.

"Our captors are very impatient now that nobody has been in touch to enter into negotiations. So we ask the government, and the people of Britain and our family, to do whatever they can to enter into negotiations with these people to buy back our lives," she said.

She said that the couple had been told by their captors that a terrorist cell is searching for them.

"We are also feeling very much under threat now that these people themselves won't hesitate to take our lives," she said.

An Islamic militia commander and a local elder in the central Somali village of Bahdo told the Associated Press previously that rival pirates and militia groups had fought for control of the British couple.

Britain's Foreign Office said Friday in a statement that it was aware of the video, and said the footage would likely "be distressing for the family."

But the ministry said government policy on ransom payments was clear.

"We do not make substantive concessions to hostage takers, including the payment of ransoms. These are innocent tourists, we seek the immediate release of Paul and Rachel," the Foreign Office said.

The Chandlers, married for 28 years, took early retirement about three years ago, sailing across the world. In an entry on a Web site in June they wrote that they were headed for Tanzania, after initially delaying a voyage there "because of the Somali pirate problem."

In the video footage, Paul Chandler insisted the couple were in reasonable health and unharmed.

"Mentally we are under great stress and threatened," he said. "Our kidnappers are losing patience. They are concerned that their has been no response at all to their demands for money."

The hostage, who had previously been permitted to conduct a telephone interview with a Britain's ITV News, urged the government to intervene before "we just sleepwalk to a tragic ending."

Yemen's coast guard said Friday that Somali pirates had hijacked a Panamanian cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, between the Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa. A coast guard official said the Red Sea Spirit was carrying an unknown number of crew when it was hijacked Friday morning, 36 nautical miles from the Yemeni port of Balhaf.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Plasma Device Kills Bacteria,Viruses, Fungi On Skin In Seconds

By Jason Palmer
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Plasma bacteria killer (New Journal of Physics)
The prototype device can kill off bacteria, viruses, and fungi in just seconds

Researchers have demonstrated a prototype device that can rid hands, feet, or even underarms of bacteria, including the hospital superbug MRSA.

The device works by creating something called a plasma, which produces a cocktail of chemicals in air that kill bacteria but are harmless to skin.

A related approach could see the use of plasmas to speed the healing of wounds.

Writing in the New Journal of Physics, the authors say plasmas could help solve gum disease or even body odour.

Plasmas are known as the fourth state of matter, after solid, liquid, and gas. They are a soup of atoms that have had their electrons stripped off by, for example, a high voltage.

Plasmas are common elsewhere in the cosmos, where high-energy processes produce them, and they are even posited as a potential source of fusion energy. Their properties have recently been harvested for use in plasma televisions.

Deadly cocktail

But the new research focuses on so-called cold atmospheric plasmas.

Rather than turning a whole group of atoms into plasma, a more delicate approach strips the electrons off just a few, sending them flying.

You can even make it battery operated so you can use small devices - I have one in my hand right now
Gregor Morfill
Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

Collisions with nearby, unchanged atoms slows down the electrons and charged atoms or ions they leave behind.

It has been known for some time that the resulting plasma is harmful to bacteria, viruses, and fungi - the approach is already used to disinfect surgical tools.

"It's actually similar to what our own immune system does," said Gregor Morfill, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, who led the research.

"The plasma produces a series of over 200 chemical reactions that involve the oxygen and nitrogen in air plus water vapour - there is a whole concoction of chemical species that can be lethal to bacteria," he told BBC News.

Professor Morfill and his colleagues have worked out the precise details of the plasma production that effectively kills off such bugs without doing harm to skin, and demonstrated a number of prototype devices that do the job efficiently.

"To produce plasmas efficiently at low cost so you can really mass produce these things for hospitals, that's the big breakthrough of the last year," Professor Morfill said.

The team says that an exposure to the plasma of only about 12 seconds reduces the incidence of bacteria, viruses, and fungi on hands by a factor of a million - a number that stands in sharp contrast to the several minutes hospital staff can take to wash using traditional soap and water.

More applications

Professor Morfill said that the approach can be used to kill the bacteria that lead to everything from gum disease to body odour.
'Clean hands' warning in hospital (PA)
Hospital staff can spend hours cleaning hands by traditional means

"The idea is scalable to any size, it can be produced in any shape; it's very flexible," he said.

"You can even make it battery-operated so you can use small devices - I have one in my hand right now."

A similar approach, using the element argon instead of plain air, has been demonstrated for application directly to wounds, and initial indications are that it speeds healing.

Michael Kong, a bioelectrics engineering researcher at Loughborough University, said it remains unclear whether those effects are through the chemical cocktail that the plasma produces, or simply from the effect of reducing the number of bacteria crowding a wound.

"Either way, it is still a very important breakthrough," Professor Kong told BBC News.

"The ideas are not new - but only recently, collectively, has this community of researchers come up with plasma sources that achieve disinfection but also have minimal impact on skin cells."

Professor Morfill said that more testing of the devices is necessary before they end up in widespread use, but he said that there is already significant interest from industry.

Cuba conducts war games with invasion by U.S. in mind


HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba began its biggest military maneuvers in five years on Thursday, saying they were needed to prepare for a possible invasion by the United States.

Despite a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations and assurances last week by President Barack Obama that the United States has no intention of invading the island 90 miles from Florida, Cuba's state-run press quoted military leaders as saying there "exists a real possibility of a military aggression against Cuba."

Most of Cuba's materiel dates from the Soviet era, but Russia recently agreed to modernize the arsenal as part of a renewal of friendship between the former allies.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Iran's Ahmadinejad visits Hugo Chavez to deepen ties

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Venezuela on the third leg of his tour of South America to boost ties.

He is set to sign business and industrial accords with his close ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Mr Chavez, who has said he wants to develop nuclear energy, has backed Iran's right to a nuclear programme.

The Iranian leader arrived from Bolivia where he and President Evo Morales stressed the right of all nations to a peaceful nuclear programme.

President Ahmadinejad was assured of a warm welcome from his Venezuelan host, Hugo Chavez.

The two outspoken critics of the US have visited each other several times and co-operation between their countries has grown in recent years.

"We have a solid foundation, a solid base that we have created over this decade in our relationship, and it shows how false are the attacks of the world empire," said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.


The two men are expected to sign some 270 agreements in fields such as agriculture, industry, technology and energy during Mr Ahmadinejad's visit.

Opposition parties and Venezuela's Jewish community expressed opposition to the presence of the Iranian president.

Former deputy foreign minister Adolfo Tayllardhat told BBC Mundo that the deep ties were just between the two leaders.

"We've lost count of the number of accords signed between Chavez and Ahmadinejad. But I insist these are just personal relations, not between Venezuela and Iran, because the only thing that links the two countries is that they are oil producers and members of Opec."

Mr Ahmadinejad began his tour in Brazil, where President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva criticised attempts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

But he also urged the Iranian leader to engage with the West.

Western powers fear Iran is developing nuclear weapons technology, rather than civilian uses as it claims.

"We feel at home here and among our brothers ... we're going to be together until the end," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez during a visit to Latin America on Wednesday.

Both leaders roundly denounced US "imperialism," and Chavez also called Israel "a murderous arm of the Yankee empire."

Chavez said he had just returned from an unannounced visit to Cuba, where he met with his mentor Fidel Castro as well as President Raul Castro. "They asked me to give you a hug for them," he told Ahmadinejad.

Also during Ahmadinejad's visit, the two leaders agreed on the inception of a direct flight route between Teheran and Caracas, according to a report by AFP.

Monday, November 23, 2009

V Television Series Product Placement by MetLife

Watching V episode 3 on, there is a shot with a ship hovering over the city in which there is a sign for MetLife. Somewhere around the 7:45-8:00 min. mark.

That probably explains the strong budget for the series and the allegory about the Visitors offering universal healthcare.

China activist Huang Qi sentenced to three years

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese rights activist Huang Qi
Activist Huang Qi has spent a decade fighting for people's rights

Chinese activist Huang Qi has been sentenced to three years in prison for "illegally holding state secrets".

Mr Huang was arrested after helping families whose children died during the earthquake in Sichuan in May last year.

The activist's wife, Zeng Li, said the verdict was "revenge" for his involvement in the earthquake cases.

Amnesty International said Mr Huang was a victim of China's "vague" state secrets laws and should be released immediately.

The verdict was delivered at a 10-minute hearing at Wuhou District People's Court in the city of Chengdu - although there were few details given about the charge.

School buildings collapsed

The activist's wife and mother were allowed to enter the court to hear the sentence, the maximum jail term for this crime.

Zeng Li said: "This is clearly revenge because he helped parents who lost their children during the Sichuan earthquake."

She said any government information that her husband had was freely available to the public.

Mr Huang was taken by the police in Chengdu in June 2008 and has been held in custody ever since.

He was giving advice to the families of five dead children who wanted to bring a legal case against the local authorities following the earthquake.

In some places schools were the only buildings to collapse and many believe this was because they were shoddily built. China's central government denies the accusation.

This is clearly revenge because he helped parents who lost their children during the Sichaun earthquake
Activist's wife Zeng Li

"The Chinese government is penalising someone who is trying to help the victims of the Sichuan earthquake," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific director.

"Huang Qi should be treated as a model citizen, committed to the rule of law, but instead he has fallen victim to China's vague state secrets legislation."

Amnesty said the activist had been treated badly while in custody and denied proper medical help.

"According to local sources, the police interrogated Huang Qi for many hours at a time, sometimes depriving him of sleep," said the rights group.

Huang Qi has championed the rights of ordinary people for a decade and has been previously been prosecuted.

He served a five-year sentence for "inciting the subversion of state power" in connection with material published on his website.

He is not the only activist to investigate the Sichuan schools issue - and not the only one to be prosecuted for his efforts.

Tan Zuoren called for volunteers to travel to Sichuan to compile a list of pupils who died when their schools fell down. He was tried in August and is awaiting the verdict.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Russia 'is now a criminal state', says Bill Browder

Russia has now turned into a "criminal state", according to the man who was once its leading foreign investor.

Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital was reacting to the news that his lawyer had died in prison in Russia after being held for a year without charge.

He told the BBC that his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, had effectively been "held hostage and they killed their hostage."

Through Hermitage Capital Bill Browder campaigned against corruption at some of Russia's largest companies.

Russian officials say they are investigating Mr Magnitsky's death.

He was their hostage and they killed their hostage by denying him medical attention
Bill Browder, Hermitage Capital

In 2005 Mr Browder was banned from Russia as a threat to national security, after allegations that his firms evaded tax, but Mr Browder says his company was targeted by criminals trying to seize millions of pounds worth of his assets.

Mr Browder says he was punished for being a threat to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

Since then, a number of Mr Browder's associates in Russia - as well as lawyers acting for his company - have been detained, beaten or robbed.

Before the accusations of tax evasion were raised, for many years Mr Browder had been one of the most outspoken defenders of the Russian government and its then-president Vladimir Putin.

'False confession'

According to Mr Browder, Sergei Magnitsky developed stomach and pancreas problems in prison which were diagnosed by a prison physician. He claims Mr Magnitsky was then moved to a new prison and then deprived of medical treatment.
Sergei Magnitsky's picture on his coffin
Sergei Magnitsky died in prison

"They basically said to him if you sign the following false confessions then we'll give you medical treatment - otherwise we wont," claims Mr Browder.

Mr Magnitsky apparently wrote numerous complaints to the court, prosecutors and the prison authorities requesting medical treatment. Mr Browder claims that Mr Magnistky's pleas were first ignored and then denied.

Mr Browder believes that Mr Magnitsky's death is a direct result of tax evasion allegations against him.

"They're trying to come up with any kind of charges they can against me and they were using him as their tool. He was their hostage and they killed their hostage by denying him medical attention, " he says.

Sergei Magnitsky was one of the lawyers hired by Mr Browder to investigate whether fraud had been committed against his firms.

Mr Browder claims that when the police raided his office they took away corporate documents which they then used to steal his companies.

We're not going to let it rest until the people responsible for the death face justice
Bill Browder, Hermitage Capital

"Sergei Magnitsky was one of the lawyers who discovered the whole crime, figured out who was responsible and then testified against the police officers and after he testified against the police officers the very same police officers had him arrested on spurious charges."

The circumstances surrounding Mr Magnitsky's death has caused Bill Browder to question his attitude to Russia under Putin.

'Criminal state'

"When Putin first showed up and said he was going to tame the oligarchs I was the biggest fan of that particular concept. Then I realised that what he meant by taming the oligarchs was by sticking law enforcement people in their place," he says.

"Now you have a bunch of law enforcement people who are essentially organised criminals with unlimited power to ruin lives take property and do whatever they like and that's far worse than I have ever seen in Russia before. Russia is essentially a criminal state now."

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin won the 2000 Russian presidential election

Mr Browder says he is going to do all he can to get justice for Sergei Magnitsky.

"We're not going to let it rest until the people responsible for the death face justice," he said.

Responding to Mr Magnitsky's death, Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said he needed more evidence that the prisoner did not receive adequate medical care.

"I would be grateful to human rights activists for providing specific information. In every case where there are doubts that assistance was timely and of good quality, there has to be a probe".

The investigative committee for the Prosecutor's office said they were conducting a full investigation in the death.

"As of now, we don't see a justification for starting a criminal case," said Moscow Investigative Committee chief, Anatoly Bagmet.