Friday, January 29, 2010

Imitation Google, YouTube emerge in China

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 08:17 EST

Two sites tempt censors, copyright lawyers by offering blocked access
By CARA ANNA, Associated Press

Imitation Web sites of both Google and YouTube have emerged in China as the country faces off against the real Google over its local operations. offers videos from the real YouTube, which is blocked in China. The Google imitation is called Goojje and includes a plea for the U.S.-based Web giant not to leave China, after it threatened this month to do so in a dispute over Web censorship and cyberattacks.

The separate projects went up within a day of each other in mid-January, just after Google's threat to leave.

"This should be an issue with Google's intellectual property, also with China censorship," said Xiao Qiang, director of the Berkeley China Internet Project at the University of California-Berkeley. "I cannot see how these sites can survive very long without facing these two issues."

Both sites were still working Thursday. It wasn't clear what Chinese authorities would do with them, if anything.

China's National Copyright Administration has been cracking down on illegally run Web sites and this month issued a code of ethics, but no statement was posted on its Web site Thursday about the Google and YouTube imitations.

Google had little comment. "The only comment I can give you right now is just to confirm that we're not affiliated," spokeswoman Jessica Powell said in an e-mail.

China is famous for its fake products, but this is the first time such prominent sites have been copied in this way, Xiao said.

The creators of the two sites could not be reached Thursday.

"I did this as a public service," the founder of the YouTube knockoff, Li Senhe, told The Christian Science Monitor in an instant message conversation. Videos on social unrest in China can be found on the site, which is in English.

The real YouTube was blocked in China in 2008 after videos related to Tibetan unrest were posted there.

Some Chinese quickly welcomed the knockoff YouTube site. "I don't know if it will last long," wrote blogger Jia Zhengjing, who has written posts against censorship.

The other site, Goojje, is a working search engine that looks like a combination of Google and its top China competitor, Baidu.

"Exactly speaking, Goojje is not a search engine but a platform for finding friends," one of the founders, Xiao Xuan, told the Henan Business Daily on Wednesday.

Xiao said the site didn't have the level of sensitive material of the copycat YouTube site and that it probably was based on the Google China site instead of the version used in the United States.

"It's quite clean by Chinese censorship standards," he said.

He guessed that based on the amount of time and work needed to build such a site on top of Google's data, Goojje had already been ready before the Google-China showdown started -- and that the founder or founders chose the name "Goojje" to get attention.

The names are a play on words. The second syllable of "Google" sounds like "older brother," and the second syllable of "Goojje" sounds like "older sister" in Mandarin.

Copycat companies are nothing new in China. "Baidu included," Xiao said of China's most popular search engine. "The whole idea is following Google."

Xiao said if another copycat site like these emerges, it probably would be of Facebook -- which is also blocked in China.


Associated Press researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report.

Obama's banking proposals: The impact on Europe

By Richard Anderson
Business reporter, BBC news

Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt
European banks may be affected less than US banks

After months of posturing, mud-slinging and veiled threats, the gloves are finally off.

Perhaps stung by criticism that, after one year in office, he has failed to live up to his pre-election hype, US President Barack Obama is finally taking on the might of Wall Street.

"If these folks want a fight, it's a fight I'm ready to have," Mr Obama vowed on Thursday.

The president's opening salvo, designed to stop banks taking too many risks in the future, is a four-punch combination:

* To limit the overall size of banks
* To ban banks from buying and selling assets with their own money, a practice known as proprietary trading
* To ban them from dealing in hedge funds
* To ban private equity trading, or buying and selling whole companies.

But these wide-ranging activities are undertaken by big banks across the world, and not just in the US.

European banking giants such as Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Barclays, UBS, HSBC and, to some extent, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) are all heavily involved in these practices.

International co-operation

Indeed, bank share prices across Europe have slumped following Mr Obama's decision to confront Wall Street.

There is no groundswell of opinion in Europe to break up the banks - there just isn't the same political pressure [as in the UK and the US]
Simon Maughan, co-head of equity research, MF Global

In the UK, RBS shares fell 7.7% in Friday morning trading before bouncing back to end the day down 1.8%, while Barclays lost 6.6% before recovering slightly to close the session down 4.1%.

And UK politicians have been quick to back Mr Obama's plans, with City Minister Lord Myners saying the US proposals were "very much in accordance with the direction we have been setting".

Subject to international co-operation, shadow chancellor George Osborne said the Conservatives would impose an identical dismantling of UK banks, while the Liberal Democrats urged the government to "get on with breaking up the banks".

In Europe, Deutsche Bank shares were down 5.8% in morning trading before recovering marginally to end the week down 4.2%, while UBS closed down 3%.

But the impact of Mr Obama's proposed reforms would have less impact on European banks than on US banks, analysts say.

While proprietary trading covers a wide range of activities, the part of it that could realistically be targeted by regulation accounts for just 1%-2% of a European bank's overall revenues, says Simon Maughan, co-head of equity research at MF Global.

Equally, he argues, European banks have been winding down their private equity functions and trading less in hedge funds.

"Such reforms would be a lot less ugly for European banks than for the likes of [US banks] JP Morgan and Bank of America," he says.

European dissent

There is, however, the more fundamental question of whether similar rules will actually be introduced in Europe.

Indeed, the reaction to the US plans by European governments could be rather more subdued than that of the UK.

There has been much deeper navel-gazing in the UK and in the US than in Europe
Jan Randolph, head of sovereign risk, IHS Global Insight

Although the French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde described the US proposals as "a very, very good step forward", it is unclear whether Europe will follow the US's lead.

"The Europeans won't do it," says Mr Maughan.

"There is no groundswell of opinion in Europe to break up the banks - there just isn't the same political pressure [as in the UK and the US]. Banks in Europe are national institutions there to support industry."

He points out there was no Glass-Steagall Act in Europe, a piece of legislation introduced in the US in the aftermath of the Great Depression to separate retail and investment banking, which was abolished by President Bill Clinton in 1999.

European banks have always integrated commercial and investment operations.

"There has been much deeper navel-gazing in the UK and in the US than in Europe," agrees Jan Randolph, head of sovereign risk at IHS Global Insight.

He highlights the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently talked of vindication for the social market economy in the light of the global financial crisis that many in Europe have blamed on rampant Anglo-Saxon capitalism.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made similar noises.

If the US and the UK do go ahead with Mr Obama's proposals and Europe does not, then European banks stand to gain an enormous competitive advantage, analysts say.

Proprietary trading will simply move to European financial centres such as Geneva and Zurich, according to Mr Randolph.

And if UK banks in particular are broken up, they could be sitting ducks for continental rivals.

"European banks will simply gobble them up," says Mr Maughan.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Neuron breakthrough offers hope on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Hannah Devlin

From The Times
January 28, 2010

Neurons have been created directly from skin cells for the first time, in a remarkable study that suggests that our biological makeup is far more versatile than previously thought.

If confirmed, the discovery that one tissue type can be genetically reprogrammed to become another, could revolutionise treatments for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, opening up the possibility of turning a patient’s own skin cells into the neurons that they need.

The study by scientists from Stanford University, California, also suggests that skin cells could be reprogrammed to provide a limitless supply of blood or bone marrow for personalised transfusions.

Until now, the consensus was that only master cells from embryos, or adult cells that have been ‘rewound’ into an embryo-like state — a process that takes several weeks — have the ability to form all the different types of tissue in the body.
Related Links

The latest study, carried out in mice, reveals that while cells choose and maintain their speciality during the earliest phase of development, they retain an underlying flexibility. Provided that the correct genes are turned on or off they could potentially be turned into any other variety of tissue in the body.

The work has been hailed as a huge conceptual leap forward in fundamental biology. “The possibility that cells could be directly reprogrammed is something that people had thought about, but to see it in black and white is still slightly shocking,” said Professor Jack Price, a neurobiologist at King’s College London. “This suggests that there are no great rules — you can reprogramme anything into anything else.”

The finding will address some of the ethical objections of groups who oppose embryonic stem-cell research, in which the embryo is destroyed. And the new process is much quicker than the alternative method, where adult cells are “rewound” to create versatile master cells, known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

In the study, published in the journal Nature, skin cells were infected with a genetically modified virus that inserted genes into the cells’ DNA. The researchers began by introducing 19 genes that are known to be switched on when mice stem cells first differentiate into neurons during embryonic development.

Using a mix-and-match approach, the researchers found that of the 19 genes initially tested, only three were truly necessary to get the skin cells to develop into neurons. When these three genes were switched on, 20 per cent of the skin cells had turned into fully functioning neurons in less than a week. The neurons were able to make connections with and signal to other nerve cells — critical functions if the cells are eventually to be used as therapy for Parkinson’s disease or other disorders.

“We were very surprised by both the timing and the efficiency,” said Irving Weissman, a stem cell expert at Stanford University in California, who led the research. "This is much more straightforward than going through iPS cells, and it’s likely to be a very viable alternative.”

In terms of clinical applications, a further advantage of skipping out the intermediate iPS state is that it is known that iPS cells promote cancers. Many researchers believe it would be difficult to obtain a license for the use of cells that are grown from iPS cells.

“People have been saying that iPS cells could be used therapeutically in the near future, but frankly they’ve been lying,” said Professor Price. “These cells don’t go through a tumourigenic phase, which means it would be much easier to get a licence to use them.”

The Stanford group are now working to reproduce the finding using human cells, but say that there is no reason to expect it should not apply to most species.

A further question is why, if cells retain an underlying versatility, they don’t switch between cell types throughout our life. One possible explanation is that genes interact via “see-saw” mechanisms, whereby when one set of genes are switched on, they automatically keep other genes switched off unless an artificial intervention is made.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Apple profits increase 50%, boosted by iPhone sales in China, S. Korea

Apple has announced a 50% increase in profits after seeing a bumper Christmas period, in which sales of iPhones doubled from a year ago.

Net income rose to $3.38bn (£2.08bn) in the three months to 26 December, from the $2.26bn it made the previous year.

Apple said it sold 8.7 million iPhones in the quarter. Sales of Macs also rose 33%, although iPod sales fell by 8%.

But the results were boosted by a new accounting standard that records revenue at the point of sale.

Previously, revenue was deferred over the life of products.

On Wednesday, the firm will announce a new product, widely expected to be a touch-screen "tablet" computer.

The company has previously used January launches to unveil products including the iPhone and the MacBook Air.

Apple shares rose $5.33, or 2.7%, to close at $203.08 in New York before the results came out.

In extended trading the shares rose a further $1.28 to $204.36.

'Phenomenal sales'

Sales in the first quarter rose to $15.7bn from $11.9bn in the same period a year ago.

The new products we are planning to release this year are very strong, starting this week with a major new product that we're really excited about
Steve Jobs, Apple chief executive

Sales of the iPhone were boosted by its roll-out in China, the world's biggest mobile phone market.

Mac sales rose to 3.36 million during the quarter while sales of iPods fell to 21 million.

Analysts were impressed with the results.

"It was a very good quarter, as expected. It's a continued sign that Apple has great products that consumers want despite this recession," commented Daniel Ernst from Hudson Square Research.

"Mac sales were phenomenal as well... Macs continue to gain share and what's interesting is that it only has 3.6% share globally so there's a lot of headroom."

Apple forecast sales for the current quarter of between $11bn and $11.4bn.

"The new products we are planning to release this year are very strong, starting this week with a major new product that we're really excited about," said Apple chief executive Steve Jobs.

Earlier this month, Microsoft and HP unveiled a touchscreen slate computer, ahead of Apple's much rumoured device launch.

Apple planning release of a 22-Inch Touchscreen iMac according to a report from from Taiwan's China Times.

Chinese supplier of Apple's iPhone touchscreen faces violent employee strike

Monday, January 18, 2010

By Katie Marsal

More than 2,000 workers at a Wintek Corp. factory in Suzhou, China, have gone on strike and destroyed equipment at their factory, potentially straining the supply of parts for Apple's iPhone.

According to China Daily, factory workers last week damaged equipment and vehicles in response to a number of alleged deaths from overexposure to toxic chemicals. Employees said they did not accept the local government's investigation into the matter. Bloomberg reported that the factory is a component supplier for the iPhone.

On Friday, workers gathered in the morning and caused damage at the Suzhou Industrial Park. They also blocked off a road and threw rocks at police, though no casualties were reported.

Various reports said that the workers were reacting to rumors of a canceled 2009 bonus, but one worker told China Daily the matter was not solely about money.

"What we feel angry about is the company authorities' apathy to our workers' health," said a worker named Zhu. He also added that employees have been overworked and underpaid.

Employees said there was a strong smell at the factory that they believe caused the deaths of four workers. One man, Li Liang, was found to have died of congenital heart disease -- a diagnosis his co-workers do not believe.

The employees believe the deaths are attributed to an overexposure to hexane, a toxic chemical used to clean touchscreen panels at the factory. Hexane can cause nervous system failure in humans.

Apple's overseas manufacturing partners have been the subject of much scrutiny over the years. Last July, an audit of Apple's partners in mainland China found that 45 of 83 factories that built iPhones and iPods in 2008 weren't paying valid overtime rates for those workers that qualified. In addition, 23 of those factories weren't even paying some of their workers China's minimum wage.

Last summer, Apple and manufacturing partner Foxconn made headlines after an alleged prototype 4G iPhone went missing from one of the company's factories. After an employee was questioned about the matter, he reportedly committed suicide.

In 2006, Apple audited Foxconn over the working conditions at its Chinese factories, after reports surfaced in a British newspaper about poor working conditions. The Cupertino, Calif., company issued a report on iPod manufacturing, which found no instances of forced overtime, but did find that some employees worked longer than the 60-hour weekly maximum.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Researchers Claim "Effectively Perfect" Spam Blocking Discovery

To beat spam, turn its own weapons against it

January 2010 by Jim Giles

SPAMMERS' own trickery has been used to develop an "effectively perfect" method for blocking the most common kind of spam, a team of computer scientists claims.

Most of the billions of spam messages sent each day originate in networks of compromised computers, called botnets. Unbeknown to their owners, the machines quietly run malicious software in the background that pumps out spam.

Researchers have now come up with a system that deciphers the templates a botnet is using to create spam. These templates are then used to teach spam filters what to look for.

The system, developed by a team at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, California, and the University of California, San Diego, works by exploiting a trick that spammers use to defeat email filters. As spam is churned out, subtle changes are typically incorporated into the messages to confound spam filters. Each message is generated from a template that specifies the message content and how it should be varied. The team reasoned that analysing such messages could reveal the template that created them. And since the spam template describes the entire range of the emails a bot will send, possessing it might provide a watertight method of blocking spam from that bot.

To test their idea, the team installed a previously captured software bot onto a machine. After analysing 1000 emails generated by this compromised machine - less than 10 minutes' work for most bots - the researchers were able to reverse-engineer the template. Knowledge of that template then enabled filters to block further spam from that bot with 100 per cent accuracy.
Knowledge of the spam template enabled filters to block further spam with 100 per cent accuracy

High accuracy can be achieved by existing spam filters, but sometimes at the cost of blocking legitimate mail. The new system did not produce a single false positive when tested against more than a million genuine messages, says Andreas Pitsillidis, one of the team: "The biggest advantage is this false positive rate."

"This is an interesting approach which really differs by using the bots themselves as the oracles for producing the filters," says Michael O'Reirdan, chairman of the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group, a coalition of technology companies. But he adds that botnets have grown so large that even a 1-minute delay in cracking the template would be "long enough for a very substantial spam campaign".

The research will be presented in March at the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium in San Diego.

Environmental think tank warns economic growth obstacle to climate change

Continuing global economic growth "is not possible" if nations are to tackle climate change, a report by an environmental think-tank has warned.

The New Economics Foundation (Nef) said "unprecedented and probably impossible" carbon reductions would be needed to hold temperature rises below 2C (3.6F).

Scientists say exceeding this limit could lead to dangerous global warming.

"We urgently need to change our economy to live within its environmental budget," said Nef's policy director.

Andrew Simms added: "There is no global, environmental central bank to bail us out if we become ecologically bankrupt."

None of the existing models or policies could "square the circle" of economic growth with climate safety, Nef added.

'No magic bullets'

In the report, Growth Isn't Possible, the authors looked at the main models for climate change and energy use in the global economy.

Magic bullets - such as carbon capture and storage, nuclear or even geo-engineering - are potentially dangerous distractions
Dr Victoria Johnson,
Report's co-author

They then considered whether economic growth could be maintained while "retaining a good likelihood" of limiting the global average temperature to within 2C of pre-industrial levels.

The report concluded that a growth rate of just 3%, the "carbon intensity" of the global economy would need to fall by 95% by 2050 from 2002 levels. This would require an average annual reduction of 6.5%.

However, the authors said that the world's carbon intensity had "flatlined" between 2000 and 2007.

"For each year the target was missed, the necessary improvements would grow higher still," they observed.

The findings also suggested that there was no proven technological advance that would allow "business as usual" to continue.

"Magic bullets - such as carbon capture and storage, nuclear or even geo-engineering - are potentially dangerous distractions from more human-scale solutions," said co-author Victoria Johnson, Nef's lead researcher for the climate change and energy programme.

She added that there was growing support for community-scale projects, such as decentralised energy systems, but support from governments was needed.

"At the moment, magic bullets... are getting much of the funding and political attention, but are missing the targets," Dr Johnson said.

"Our research shows that to prevent runaway climate change, this needs to change."

The report concluded that an economy that respected environmental thresholds, which include biodiversity and the finite availability of natural resources, would be better placed to deliver human well-being in the long run.

Tom Clougherty, executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, a free-market think-thank, said Nef's report exhibited "a complete lack of understanding of economics and, indeed, human development".

"It is precisely this economic growth which will lift the poor out of poverty and improve the environmental standards that really matter to people - like clean air and water - in the process, as it has done throughout human history," he told BBC News.

"There's only one good thing I can say for the Nef's report, and that's that it is honest. Its authors admit that they want us to be poorer and to lead more restricted lives for the sake of their faddish beliefs."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saudi schoolgirl sentenced to 90 lashes after assaulting headmistress

(CNN) -- A schoolgirl in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 90 lashes and two months in prison for assaulting her headmistress after a confrontation over a cell phone, sparking an outcry from a government-sponsored rights group.

Saudi Arabia's National Society for Human Rights said it is surprised by the verdict and called for the punishment be reconsidered, according to statement by the group.

The verdict was handed down by a court in the eastern province city of Jubail as a punishment for the 13-year-old who allegedly assaulted her headmistress.

Saudi daily newspaper, Al-Watan, which first reported the sentence, said the girl struck the headmistress on the head with a glass after a confrontation over the confiscation of the girl's camera-equipped cell phone.

Dr. Saleh Al-Khaslan, a spokesman for the rights group, said the penalty was too severe.

"The court should have looked for an alternative sentence," he said, adding that the rights group is calling on an appeals court in Jubail to hear the case again.

Al-Watan did not provide the name of the school, its headmistress or the girl. Efforts to reach the Saudi Ministry of Justice were unsuccessful.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism, and lashings are a common form of punishment.

In October 2009, a court sentenced a man to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes after he bragged about his sex life on television.

In March of the same year, a Saudi court sentenced a 75-year-old Syrian woman to 40 lashes, four months imprisonment and deportation from the kingdom for having two unrelated men in her house.

In 2007, a 19-year-old gang-rape victim in the Saudi city of Qatif was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison for meeting with an unrelated male. The seven attackers, who abducted the man and woman, got sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison. The case sparked international outrage, prompting Saudi's King Abdullah to pardon the girl and the unrelated male.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Scientologists 'heal' Haiti quake victims using touch

Amid the mass of aid agencies piling in to help Haiti quake victims is a batch of Church of Scientology "volunteer ministers", claiming to use the power of touch to reconnect nervous systems.

Clad in yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the controversial US-based group, smiling volunteers fan out among the injured lying under makeshift shelters in the courtyard of Port-au-Prince's General Hospital.

A wealthy private donor provided his airplane to fly in 80 volunteers from Los Angeles, along with 50 Haitian-American-doctors, in a gesture worth 400,000 dollars, said a Parisian volunteer who gave her name as Sylvie.

"We're trained as volunteer ministers, we use a process called 'assist' to follow the nervous system to reconnect the main points, to bring back communication," she said.

"When you get a sudden shock to a part of your body the energy gets stuck, so we re-establish communication within the body by touching people through their clothes, and asking people to feel the touch."

Next to her lay 22-year-old student Oscar Elweels, whose father rescued him from the basement of his school where he lay with a pillar on his leg for a day after the deadly January 12 quake.

His right leg was amputated below the knee and his left leg was severely bruised and swollen.

More than half of his fellow students died in the rubble of his school, although the rest of his family was unscathed, he said, thanking God.

"One hour ago he had no sensation in his left leg, so I explained the method to him, I touched him and after a while he said 'now I feel everything'," said Sylvie.

"Otherwise they might have had to amputate his other leg. Now his sister knows the method and she can do it."

Asked about the method being used on him, a smiling Elweels described it as "a sort of harmony between the nerves, a kind of exercise. I couldn't feel at all, but then I could."

Does he know Scientology? "Yes, it's a French organization," he said.

"All the patients are happy with the technique," said Sylvie. "But some doctors don't like the yellow T-shirts. It's a color thing," she insisted.

Another group of Scientologists distributed antibiotic pills. "The doctors said give everyone with wounds antibiotics," said Italian volunteer Marina.

Some doctors at the hospital are skeptical. One US doctor, who asked not to be named, snorted: "I didn't know touching could heal gangrene."

When asked what the Scientologists are doing here, another doctor said: "I don't know."

Do you care? "Not really," she said, wheeling an unconscious patient out of the operating room to join hundreds of others in the hospital's sunny courtyard.

Venezuela oil 'may double Saudi Arabia'

A new US assessment of Venezuela's oil reserves could give the country double the supplies of Saudi Arabia.

Scientists working for the US Geological Survey say Venezuela's Orinoco belt region holds twice as much petroleum as previously thought.

The geologists estimate the area could yield more than 500bn barrels of crude oil.

This assessment is far more optimistic than even the best case scenario put forward by President Hugo Chavez.

The USGS team gave a mean estimate of 513bn barrels of "technically recoverable" oil in the Orinoco belt.

Chris Schenk of the USGS said the estimate was based on oil recovery rates of 40% to 45%.

Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), Venezuela's state oil company, has not commented on the news.

However, Venezuelan oil geologist and former PDVSA board member Gustavo Coronel was sceptical.

"I doubt the recovery factor could go much higher than 25% and much of that oil would not be economic to produce", he told Associated Press news agency.

Venezuela holds the largest oil reserves outside the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has proven reserves of 260bn barrels.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Somali pirates free Greek tanker after record ransom, infighting

Somali pirates have freed a Greek-owned oil tanker, a day after one of the largest ransoms ever paid was delivered to the ship, pirates and officials say.

The Maran Centaurus, one of the largest oil tankers ever seized, was captured on 29 November with 28 crew members.

A ransom of between $5.5m (£3.4m) and $7m (£4.3m) was dropped on the deck of the supertanker.

The money was said to have sparked an argument among the pirates and delayed the release of the ship.

"She's free. She's preparing to sail out" from Harardhere, Andrew Mwangura, of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, told the AFP news agency.

One pirate said the argument about the ransom money had been resolved.

"We have agreed to solve our disagreements and release the ship. It is free and sailing away now," one of the pirates, Hassan, told Reuters news agency by telephone.

"The crew are all safe."

Lawless coast

When it was hijacked, the Maran Centaurus was sailing near the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, about 1,300km (800 miles) off Somalia.

Its crew is made up of 16 Filipinos, nine Greeks, two Ukrainians and one Romanian.

It is carrying about two million barrels of oil, the equivalent of the daily output of some of the world's top oil producers.



The argument between rival pirate gangs means that the ship, the Maran Centaurus, has not yet been freed, a local group that monitors piracy said.

A ransom of between $5.5m and $7m (£3.4m-£4.3m) is believed to have been dropped on the deck of the tanker.

The Maran Centaurus was seized in November with 28 crew members.

As the ransom was due to be delivered on Sunday, pirates on board the tanker and others in speedboats were reportedly already firing weapons at each other.

"The argument intensified when the ransom money was brought," Ahmed Ganey, a member of the gang that hijacked the ship, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

"Some of the pirates are on board the ship while others are onshore and refusing anybody to get down or to go on board," he said.


"The problem is now that the pirates on the vessel will not be able to return to the shore, because of the infighting," said Ecoterra International, a Nairobi-based group that monitors shipping off Somalia.

"At present there is a stand-off and nobody can predict how the release will develop."

When it was hijacked the Maran Centaurus was sailing near the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, about 1,300km (800 miles) off Somalia.

Its crew is made up of 16 Filipinos, nine Greeks, two Ukrainians and one Romanian. It is carrying about two million barrels of oil.

War-torn Somalia has had no functioning government since 1991, allowing pirates to operate along the lawless coast, almost with impunity.

In recent months, the pirates have started operating further from the Somali coast as international navies try to protect shipping against attacks.

In November 2008, another oil tanker, the Sirius Star, which was also carrying some two million barrels of oil, became the largest ship ever seized by pirates.

The vessel was released in January after a ransom of $3m (then £1.95m) was paid.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

$65 tour of Los Angeles Gangland

On the Net:
LA Gang Tours


LOS ANGELES (AP) - Only miles from the scenic vistas and celebrity mansions that draw sightseers from around the globe - but a world away from the glitz and glamour - a bus tour is rolling through the dark side of the city's gang turf.

Passengers paying $65 a head Saturday signed waivers acknowledging they could be crime victims and put their fate in the hands of tattooed ex-gang members who say they have negotiated a cease-fire among rivals in the most violent gangland in America.

If that sounds daunting, consider the challenge facing organizers of LA Gang Tours: trying to build a thriving venture that provides a glimpse into gang life while also trying to convince people that gang-plagued communities are not as hopeless as movies depict.

"There's a fascination with gangs," said founder Alfred Lomas, a former member of the Florencia 13 gang. "We can either address the issue head-on, create awareness and discuss the positive things that go on in these communities, or we can try to sweep it under the carpet."

Several observers have questioned the premise behind the tours, and some city politicians have been more blunt.

"It's a terrible idea," City Councilman Dennis Zine said. "Is it worth that thrill for 65 bucks? You can go to a (gang) movie for a lot less and not put yourself at risk."

More than 50 people brushed aside safety concerns for Saturday's maiden tour to hear how notorious gangs got started and bear witness to the struggling neighborhoods where tens of thousands of residents have been lured into gang life.

The unmarked chartered coach wound its way through downtown. The first sight was a stretch of concrete riverbed featured in such movies as "Terminator" and "Grease," where countless splotches of gray paint conceal graffiti that is often the mark of street gangs and tagging crews.

After that, it was on to the Central Jail, home to many a thug, past Skid Row's squalor and homeless masses and into South Los Angeles, breeding ground for some of the city's deadliest gangs.

Motoring through an industrial area, the bus enters the Florence-Firestone neighborhood, close to the birthplace of the Crips and current home to Florencia 13, a Latino gang that was accused by federal prosecutors of racist attacks against black residents.

Gray warehouses soon merge with single-story stucco homes as the bus heads south. Few gangsters risk hanging out on street corners, as local rules mean they could get arrested even for congregating, but graffiti on walls, road signs and convenience storefronts betray the presence of Florencia 13 and other gangs.

Sieglinde Lemke, 46, an American Studies professor from the University of Freiburg in Germany, said she enjoyed the opportunity to interact with former gang members.

"It brings to life the class divisions you have in America," she said. "This is an area that's blocked out of my mental map of the States. It's important to get a firsthand account of the area."

Junior high school teacher Prisca Ricks, 37, was of two minds about going on the tour after reading critical blog comments about it being "ghettotainment."

But ultimately, she was pleased she went, and said she appreciated the focus on trying to help the community.

Lomas, 45, a respected activist who has worked with the faith-based Los Angeles Dream Center to distribute hundreds of tons of food to low-income families across the inner city, left gang life about five years ago.

He stresses the aim of his nonprofit company is to bring jobs to communities along the route and to reinvest money through micro-loans and scholarships, though he's not sure how the tour will accomplish that. He also eventually wants to start a gallery and gang museum.

He said the tour will create 10 part-time jobs, mainly for ex-gang members working as guides and talking about their own struggles and efforts to reduce violence. The tour is initially scheduled to run once a month.

No tour quite like this runs elsewhere in the country. Chicago has a prohibition-era gangster tour, and another Los Angeles group buses people to infamous crime scenes, including the Black Dahlia murder.

Lomas faces a quandary as he tries to show the troubled history of the area once known as South Central, before politicians renamed it South Los Angeles in 2003 in an attempt to change its deep association with urban strife.

The tour is billed as "the first in the history of Los Angeles to experience areas that were forbidden." But tour leaders don't want it to be voyeuristic and sensational.

"We ain't going on no tour saying, 'Look at them Crips, look at them Bloods, look at them crack heads,'" said Frederick "Scorpio" Smith, an ex-Crip helping narrate, who helped broker the cease-fire among the Grape Street Crips, 18th Street, F13 and the East Coast Crips.

Out of sensitivity to residents, passengers are banned from shooting photographs or video from the bus. The only place that is allowed is near the end of the trip, when they can step off the bus and film an outdoor area where graffiti is allowed.

Stretches of the tour have almost nothing to do with gangs, but instead exploit famous chapters of violence in the city's history, such as a deadly 1974 shootout between police and the Symbionese Liberation Army and the site of the riots that followed the acquittal of officers in the Rodney King beating.

If done right, the tour could highlight the decades-long struggle to solve the gang problem, said civil rights lawyer and gang expert Connie Rice.

Gang crime has fallen in recent years, but groups continue to grow and gain influence. Over the past quarter century, officials in Los Angeles County have spent $25 billion fighting gangs only to see the number of gangsters double to as many as 90,000 and a six-fold increase in the number of gangs.

"If it is carried out well and carefully and carried out with the consent of the community, it could teach people about the very entrenched culture that gangs now have in Los Angeles," Rice said.

City Councilwoman Jan Perry said she would rather tourists see the development potential in the neighborhoods that make up part of her district. About two years ago, she organized her own tour in the area for about 200 real estate agents and business representatives, resulting in the development of buildings with homes and businesses.

"I'd prefer we focus on showing the community in a positive light," she said.

Law Firm Hit By Cyber Attack, Suing China

Targeted e-mail messages tried to trick recipients into clicking on malicious links.

By Thomas Claburn
January 14, 2010 02:29 PM

Last week, Santa Barbara, Calif.-based CYBERsitter sued the People's Republic of China, the two Chinese software makers, and seven computer manufacturers for distributing Web filtering software known as Green Dam with allegedly stolen code.

This week, the law firm representing the company said that it had been targeted in a cyber attack from China.

In a phone interview, Elliot B. Gipson of Gipson Hoffman & Pancione described what amounts to a spear-phishing attack -- the same technique used against Google in China. "They were e-mails targeted at individuals in our law firm that were made to appears as if they were coming from other individuals at our law firm," he said. "They attempted to get the target to click on a link or attachment."

The firm's initial investigation has shown that at least some of the e-mail messages originated in China and that some of the malware payloads were on servers in China. The attacks have been reported to the FBI and members of the House Intelligence Committee.

Gipson said he believed that no one had clicked on the malicious links. While his firm doesn't have a formal cyber security education program, he said that employees had been warned not to open documents or click on links if they seemed suspicious.

Gipson said that despite the fact that the messages appeared to come from other members of the firm, little things like the phrasing of the messages tipped recipients off. "You work with people, you know what they sound like," he said.

Last June, when CYBERsitter, then operating under the name Solid Oak Software, publicly claimed that Green Dam contained its proprietary computer code, the company was hit by a similar targeted e-mail attack, also apparently from China.

Gipson Hoffman & Pancione has yet to receive any response from the Chinese government or the companies named in its lawsuit, which seeks $2.2 billion in lost sales for the 56 million copies of Green Dam distributed in China.

Andrew Bridges, an attorney with Winston & Strawn, said in an e-mailed statement that it might be hard to prove that the defendants' actions had resulted in lost sales. There's also the difficulty of suing a foreign government, which is typically immune to civil claims.

In October, CYBERsitter sued CBS Interactive's ZDNet China for distributing Green Dam and settled its claim two months later under confidential terms.

Senegal offers land to Haitians

Abdoulaye Wade said Haitians could "return to their origin"

Senegal's president says he will offer free land and "repatriation" to people affected by the earthquake in Haiti.

President Abdoulaye Wade said Haitians were sons and daughters of Africa since Haiti was founded by slaves, including some thought to be from Senegal.

"The president is offering voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to their origin," said Mr Wade's spokesman, Mamadou Bemba Ndiaye.

Tuesday's earthquake killed tens of thousands and left many more homeless.

Buildings have been reduced to rubble, the distribution of aid is slow, and people have been flooding out of the devastated capital, Port-au-Prince.

"Senegal is ready to offer them parcels of land - even an entire region. It all depends on how many Haitians come," Mr Bemba Ndiaye said.

"If it's just a few individuals, then we will likely offer them housing or small pieces of land. If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region."

The spokesman emphasised that if a region was given, it would be in a fertile part of the country rather than in its parched deserts, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

North Korea threatens South Korea with 'holy war'

Fri, Jan 15 08:31 PM

Seoul, Jan 15 (DPA) North Korea Friday threatened to cut off all dialogue with South Korea following reports that Seoul had revised a contingency plan to deal with the potential collapse of Pyongyang's Stalinist regime.

In a statement released by its state-run media, North Korea's National Defence Commission vowed to wage a 'pan-national holy war of retaliation' to blow away the South Korean government.

The commission, headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, reacted to South Korean news reports that Seoul had dusted off a plan on how to deal with the collapse of the North's regime.

South Korean newspapers reported the plan includes five scenarios such as a coup or revolution, a military attack on North Korea from the outside or the death of Kim Jong Il.

'This is a plan to topple our republic,' Pyongyang said in the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

The threat came after months of Pyongyang softening its diatribes against Seoul. On Thursday, the Communist state proposed talks on resurrecting joint tourism programmes.

Shortly before the threat was released, South Korea's Defence Ministry said the North's Red Cross accepted Seoul's offer of 10,000 tonnes of food.
Indo Asian News Service

North Korea Times
Friday 15th January, 2010

North Korea Friday threatened to cut off all dialogue with South Korea following reports that Seoul had revised a contingency plan to deal with the potential collapse of Pyongyang's Stalinist regime.

In a statement released by its state-run media, North Korea's National Defence Commission vowed to wage a 'pan-national holy war of retaliation' to blow away the South Korean government.

The commission, headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, reacted to South Korean news reports that Seoul had dusted off a plan on how to deal with the collapse of the North's regime.

South Korean newspapers reported the plan includes five scenarios such as a coup or revolution, a military attack on North Korea from the outside or the death of Kim Jong Il.

'This is a plan to topple our republic,' Pyongyang said in the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

The threat came after months of Pyongyang softening its diatribes against Seoul. On Thursday, the Communist state proposed talks on resurrecting joint tourism programmes.

Shortly before the threat was released, South Korea's Defence Ministry said the North's Red Cross accepted Seoul's offer of 10,000 tonnes of food.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Top Obama czar: Infiltrate all 'conspiracy theorists'

"Among the beliefs Sunstein would ban is advocating that the theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud."

Some "conspiracy theories" recommended for ban by Sunstein include:

* "The theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud."

* "The view that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy."

* "The 1996 crash of TWA flight 800 was caused by a U.S. military missile."

* "The Trilateral Commission is responsible for important movements of the international economy."

* "That Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by federal agents."

* "The moon landing was staged and never actually occurred."

Sunstein allowed that "some conspiracy theories, under our definition, have turned out to be true."


megamerican writes:

"President Barack Obama's appointee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs advocated in a recent paper the 'cognitive infiltration' of groups that advocate 'conspiracy theories' like the ones surrounding 9/11 via 'chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine' those groups. Sunstein admits that 'some conspiracy theories, under our definition, have turned out to be true' Sunstein has also recently advocated banning websites which post 'right-wing rumors' and bringing back the Fairness Doctrine.

You can find a PDF of his paper here. For decades (1956-1971), the FBI under COINTELPRO focused on disrupting, marginalizing and neutralizing political dissidents, most notably the Black Panthers. More recently CENTCOM announced it would be engaging bloggers 'who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information.' In January 2009 the USAF released a flow-chart for 'counter-bloggers' to 'counter the people out there in the blogosphere who have negative opinions about the U.S. government and the Air Force.'"

Google Attackers Identified as Chinese Government

VeriSign iDefense researchers have identified the source of the recent cyber-assault against Google and have found the command-and-control servers that were used to orchestrate the attack.
By Ryan Paul | Last updated January 14, 2010 8:45 AM

VeriSign's iDefense security lab has published a report with technical details about the recent cyberattack that hit Google and over 30 other companies. The iDefense researchers traced the attack back to its origin and also identified the command-and-control servers that were used to manage the malware.

The cyber-assault came to light on Tuesday when Google disclosed to the public that the Gmail Web service was targeted in a highly-organized attack in late December. Google said that the intrusion attempt originated from China and was executed with the goal of obtaining information about political dissidents, but the company declined to speculate about the identity of the perpetrator.

Citing sources in the defense contracting and intelligence consulting community, the iDefense report unambiguously declares that the Chinese government was, in fact, behind the effort. The report also says that the malicious code was deployed in PDF files that were crafted to exploit a vulnerability in Adobe's software.

"The source IPs and drop server of the attack correspond to a single foreign entity consisting either of agents of the Chinese state or proxies thereof," the report says.

The researchers have determined that there are significant similarities between the recent attack and a seemingly related one that was carried out in July against a large number of US companies. Both attacks were apparently managed through the same command-and-control servers.

"The servers used in both attacks employ the HomeLinux DynamicDNS provider, and both are currently pointing to IP addresses owned by Linode, a US-based company that offers Virtual Private Server hosting. The IP addresses in question are within the same subnet, and they are six IP addresses apart from each other," the report says. "Considering this proximity, it is possible that the two attacks are one and the same, and that the organizations targeted in the Silicon Valley attacks have been compromised since July."

If the report's findings are correct, it suggests that the government of China has been engaged for months in a massive campaign of industrial espionage against US companies.

Proof of Life in Three Martian Rocks May Come This Year

Monoliths may not have transformed Jupiter into a star and made Europa a new Earth, but the late science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke might still be pleased, wherever he is, with NASA's prediction for 2010. Spaceflight Now reports that this year should prove whether fossilized life truly exists in three Martian meteorites, one way or the other.

Scientists have been reexamining the controversial Allen Hills meteorite since it sparked reaction from both NASA and the White House in 1996. But now better instruments have turned up possible Martian fossils inside two more meteorites, including a chunk of space rock that has sat inside the British Museum of Natural History in London for almost 100 years.

The scientific teams are "very, very close to proving there is or has been life [on Mars]," said David McKay, chief of astrobiology at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a Spaceflight Now interview.

Such life would have likely come from a planet-wide underground network of microorganisms that first emerged 3.6 billion years ago on Mars, scientists say. That development would have paralleled the simple life forms emerging on Earth at around the same time.

New tools for the investigation include a nifty Ion Microprobe that can fire streams of ions onto micro-fossil samples. The ions transform the sample into plasma that can be analyzed via spectrometer for each chemical or mineral part.

If positive confirmation comes, it could dramatically shift NASA's focus from "follow the water" to "search for evidence of life" on Mars and elsewhere. The U.S. space agency's upcoming Mars Science Laboratory rover may get a new landing spot and additional instruments tailored for the hunt. Positive proof of Martian life could also push NASA to seriously investigate Jupiter's moon of Europa and other locations for life.

People on Earth have already begun wrapping their heads around the possibility of extraterrestrial life. It looks like we might not have to travel all the way to Avatar's Pandora after all.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hillary Rodman Clinton

The result of reading news and crossing wires with Pam Kohn. Click image to enlarge.

Statement on Google Operations in China

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 12, 2010

"We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation.

The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy. I will be giving an address next week on the centrality of internet freedom in the 21st century, and we will have further comment on this matter as the facts become clear."

Original post:

More info...

Do nuclear bombs cause earthquakes?

"Nuclear bomb testing has doubled the earthquake rate."
- Gary Whiteford, Professor of Geography, University of New Brunswick

"Abnormal meteorological phenomena, earthquakes and fluctuations of the earth's axis are related in a direct cause-and-effect to testing of nuclear devices."
- Shigeyoshi Matsumae, President Tokai University Yoshio Kato, Department of Aerospace Science



Recent nuclear testing in N.Korea, May 2009:

North Korea tests nuclear weapon 'as powerful as Hiroshima bomb'

Country risks further international isolation as underground nuclear explosion triggers earthquake

North Korea today risked further international isolation after it claimed to have successfully tested a nuclear weapon as powerful as the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

The test comes less than two months after the North enraged the US and its allies by test firing a long-range ballistic missile.

The KNCA news agency, the regime's official mouthpiece, said: "We have successfully conducted another nuclear test on 25 May as part of the republic's measures to strengthen its nuclear deterrent."

Officials in South Korea said they had detected a tremor consistent with those caused by an underground nuclear explosion. The country's Yonhap news agency reported that the North had test-fired three short-range missiles from a base on the east coast immediately after the nuclear test.

The underground atomic explosion, at 9.54am local time (0154 BST), created an earthquake measuring magnitude 4.5 in Kilju county in the country's north-east, reports said.

President Barack Obama called the test a matter of grave concern to all countries. "North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community," he said in a statement. "North Korea's behaviour increases tensions and undermines stability in north-east Asia."

He added that North Korea's behaviour would serve only to deepen the country's isolation.

"It will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery," he said.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he was "deeply worried" by the development.

The UN security council will hold an emergency meeting in New York later today to discuss its response to the latest escalation in the crisis. Obama and other leaders did not offer details on the council's possible response.

China, North Korea's key ally, said it was "resolutely opposed" to the test, urging its neighbour to avoid actions that would sharpen tensions and return to six-party arms-for-disarmament talks.

Japan, which considers itself high on the North's potential hit list, said it would seek a new resolution condemning the test.

Russian defence experts estimated the explosion's yield at between 10 and 20 kilotons, many times more than the 1 kiloton measured in its first nuclear test in 2006 and about as powerful as the bombs the US used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the second world war. One kiloton is equal to the force produced by 1,000 tonnes of TNT.

The force of the blast made the ground tremble in the Chinese border city of Yanji, 130 miles away.

The North Korean news agency said the test had been "safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control. The test will contribute to defending the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism and ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula and the region."

Gordon Brown described the test as "erroneous, misguided and a danger to the world". The prime minister added: "This act will undermine prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula and will do nothing for North Korea's security."

South Korea condemned the test, North Korea's second since it exploded its first nuclear device in October 2006 in defiance of international opinion. That test prompted the UN to pass a resolution banning Pyongyang from activities related to its ballistic missile programme.

The South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, convened a session of the country's security council after seismologists reported earthquakes in the Kilju region, site of the North's first nuclear test.

In Tokyo, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Takeo Kawamura, said the test was "a clear violation of the UN security council resolution and cannot be tolerated".

North Korea had warned of a second nuclear test after the UN condemned its test-launch of a ballistic missile on 5 April and agreed to tighten sanctions put in place in 2006.

Pyongyang insisted it had put a peaceful communications satellite in orbit, but experts said the technology and methods were identical to those used to launch a long-range Taepodong-2 missile.

After the UN refused to apologise for condemning the launch, North Korea expelled international inspectors, threatened to restart its Yongbyon nuclear reactor – which it had agreed to start dismantling in 2007 – and walked away from six-party nuclear talks.

Today's test will add to fears that the North is moving closer to possessing the ability to mount a nuclear warhead on long-range missiles that are capable, in theory, of reaching Hawaii and Alaska.

"This test, if confirmed, could indicate North Korea's decision to work at securing actual nuclear capabilities," Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongkuk University in Seoul, told Reuters.

"North Korea had been expecting the new US administration to mark a shift from the previous administration's stance, but is realising that there are no changes. It may have decided that a second test was necessary. [It] seems to be reacting to the US and South Korean administrations' policies."

Analysts believe the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, hopes to use the test to shore up support from the military amid mounting speculation that he is about to name one of his three sons as his successor.

Kim, 67, appears to be re-establishing his grip on power since reportedly suffering a stroke last August. Today's test is a direct challenge to attempts by Obama to engage the North and stem the spread of nuclear weapons.

Despite promising a fresh start to bilateral relations, Obama, who denounced last month's missile launch as "a provocation," has so far failed to persuade North Korean to enter into negotiations.

Kim Myong-chol, executive director of the Centre for Korean-American Peace in Tokyo, who is close to Pyongyang, said the test was a reminder that North Korea "is going it alone as a nuclear power".

"North Korea doesn't need any talks with America. America is tricky and undesirable," he said. "It does not implement its own agreements.

"We are not going to worry about sanctions. If they sanction us, we will become more powerful. Sanctions never help America; they are counter-productive … We don't care about America and what they say."

Google attack part of widespread spying effort U.S. firms face ongoing espionage from China

From the article:

Google's decision Tuesday to risk walking away from the world's largest Internet market may have come as a shock, but security experts see it as the most public admission of a top IT problem for U.S. companies: ongoing corporate espionage originating from China.

It's a problem that the U.S. lawmakers have complained about loudly. In the corporate world, online attacks that appear to come from China have been an ongoing problem for years, but big companies haven't said much about this, eager to remain in the good graces of the world's powerhouse economy.

Google, by implying that Beijing had sponsored the attack, has placed itself in the center of an international controversy, exposing what appears to be a state-sponsored corporate espionage campaign that compromised more than 30 technology, financial and media companies, most of them global Fortune 500 enterprises.

The U.S. government is taking the attack seriously. Late Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a">statement asking the Chinese government to explain itself, saying that Google's allegations "raise very serious concerns and questions."

"The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy," she said.

Organ Damage In Rats From Monsanto GMO Corn

Highlights from the Paper:


"In conclusion, our data presented here strongly recommend that additional long-term (up to 2 years) animal feeding studies be performed in at least three species, preferably also multi-generational, to provide true scientifically valid data on the acute and chronic toxic effects of GM crops, feed and foods. Our analysis highlights that the kidneys and liver as particularly important on which to focus such research as there was a clear negative impact on the function of these organs in rats consuming GM maize varieties for just 90 days."

Causes Identified by the Study

"We investigated three different GM corn namely NK 603, MON 810 and MON 863, which were fed to rats for 90 days. The raw data have been obtained by European governments and made publically available for scrutiny and counter-evaluation. These studies constitute a model to investigate possible subchronic toxicological effects of these GM cereals in mammals and humans. These are the longest in vivo tests performed with mammals consuming these GMOs. The animals were monitored for numerous blood and organ parameters. One corn (NK 603) has been genetically engineered to tolerate the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup and thus contains residues of this formulation. The two other types of GM maize studied produce two different new insecticides namely modified versions of Cry1Ab (MON 810) and Cry3Bb1 (MON 863) Bacillus thuringiensis-derived proteins. Therefore, all these three GM maize contain novel pesticide residues that will be present in food and feed. As a result, the potential effects on physiological parameters, due either to the recognized mutagenic effects of the GM transformation process or to the presence of the above mentioned novel pesticides within these plants can be evaluated in animal feeding studies."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

CA Lawmakers consider bill to allow pot for pleasure

Article below my editorial input:

Safe to guess that this comes to fruition largely because of our economic crisis - would this happen in a strong economy? Other dialogues have included legalization of gambling in other parts of the country, male prostitution in Vegas, and maybe something else I'm forgetting. Break out the vice to raise some money.

Our culture has been sucking ass especially hard since the bubble burst and the bottom line runs the show. Retro, remakes of music and film, zombie films, reality tv, porn, gladiatorial combat, propaganda-laced news (or news-laced propaganda)...noone is taking creative risks, but they sure don't mind selling out the spectacles and taboos. But, necessity is the mother of invention; I'm not a total cynic.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue and why, legalization of pot for the sake of undermining drug cartels, freedom of choice, etc. this will be a huge revenue generator for California's economy and for raising taxes.

Assembly Plants Seed for Legal Pot in California

Updated 1:33 PM PST, Tue, Jan 12, 2010

The first step to legalize marijuana in California is on a roll.

Lawmakers on Tuesday approved Assembly Bill 390 -- legislation to tax and regulate marijuana. The Assembly's Public Safety Committee voted 4-3 on bill at a hearing in Sacramento. The bill will now be passed to the full Assembly on Friday for consideration.

The bill, authored by San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, would essentially treat pot the same way alcohol is treated under the law and would allow adults over 21 to possess, smoke and grow marijuana.

The law would also call for a fee of $50 per ounce sold and would help fund drug eradication and awareness programs. It could help pull California out of debt, supporters say, raising up to $990 million from the fees.

Among the supporters of legalizing marijuana is a group of police, judges and prosecutors who formed a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The organization firmly believes that legalizing marijuana for adults will help improve American society by restricting youth access to it and taking the attraction away from cartels that traffic pot as an illegal substance.

"The mere fact that there will be votes in the Assembly to regulate and control the sale and distribution of marijuana would have been unthinkable even one year ago." Retired Orange County California Supreme Court Judge Jim Gray said via a statement from the group. "And if the bill doesn't pass this year, it will soon. Or, the bill will be irrelevant because the voters will have passed the measure to regulate and tax marijuana that will be on the ballot this November."

Gray testified before the assembly's informational hearing in October 2009 and defined the group's position about why they are for overturning the prohibition on marijuana.

This is the first time in U.S. history any state legislative body has ever considered repealing marijuana prohibition, which has been in place since 1913.

Google 'may end China operations over Gmail breaches'

Internet search company Google says it may end operations in China over alleged breaches of the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

It said it had found a "sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China".

It did not specifically accuse China's government but said it was no longer willing to censor its Chinese site's results, as the government requires.

Google said the decision might mean it has to shut the site, set up in 2006.

Phishing scam

Shortly after the news was announced, shares in Google fell by 1.9% to $579 (£358) in after-hours trading in New York.

In a blog post announcing its decision, Google's David Drummond said: "A primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists."

The company said its investigation into the attack found two Gmail accounts appeared to have been accessed.

If, as seems likely, the government refuses to allow it to operate an uncensored service, then Google will pull out
Rory Cellan Jones, BBC technology correspondent

However, activity was limited to account information such as the date the account was created and subject line, rather than e-mail content, it said.

It was also discovered the accounts of dozens of US, China and Europe-based Gmail users, who are "advocates of human rights in China", appeared to have been "routinely accessed by third parties".

It said these accounts had not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but "most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on users' computers".

At least 20 other large companies from a wide range of businesses were similarly targeted, it added.

In the coming weeks, Google said it would hold talks with the Chinese government to look at operating an unfiltered search engine within the law.

The decision, it said, had been "incredibly hard" and driven by company executives in the US, not employees in China.

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan Jones said the attacks, coupled with further attempts to limit free speech, had led Google to reconsider its position.

"If, as seems likely, the government refuses to allow it to operate an uncensored service, then Google will pull out.

"That will leave other overseas web companies operating in China with difficult decisions to make," he added.

Google first launched in China four years ago after agreeing to censor some search results.

The move led to accusations it had betrayed its company motto - "don't do evil" but Google argued it would be more damaging for civil liberties if it pulled out of China entirely.

Last summer, Google was at loggerheads with China after it was accused of breaking the law by spreading pornography.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Vince Collins animation

Wet computing in development mimics the brain

By Jason Palmer
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Artist's impression of 'wet' computing cells (G Jones)

A promising push toward a novel, biologically-inspired "chemical computer" has begun as part of an international collaboration.

The "wet computer" incorporates several recently discovered properties of chemical systems that can be hijacked to engineer computing power.

The team's approach mimics some of the actions of neurons in the brain.

The 1.8m-euro (£1.6m) project will run for three years, funded by an EU emerging technologies programme.

The programme has identified biologically-inspired computing as particularly important, having recently funded several such projects.

What distinguishes the current project is that it will make use of stable "cells" featuring a coating that forms spontaneously, similar to the walls of our own cells, and uses chemistry to accomplish the signal processing similar to that of our own neurons.

The goal is not to make a better computer than conventional ones, said project collaborator Klaus-Peter Zauner of the University of Southampton, but rather to be able to compute in new environments.

If one day we want to construct computers of similar power and complexity to the human brain, my bet would be on some form of chemical or molecular computing
Frantisek Stepanek, Institute of Chemical Technology, Prague

"The type of wet information technology we are working towards will not find its near-term application in running business software," Dr Zauner told BBC News.

"But it will open up application domains where current IT does not offer any solutions - controlling molecular robots, fine-grained control of chemical assembly, and intelligent drugs that process the chemical signals of the human body and act according to the local biochemical state of the cell."

Lipids and liquids

The group's approach hinges on two critical ideas.

First, individual "cells" are surrounded by a wall made up of so-called lipids that spontaneously encapsulate the liquid innards of the cell.

Recent work has shown that when two such lipid layers encounter each other as the cells come into contact, a protein can form a passage between them, allowing chemical signalling molecules to pass.

Second, the cells' interiors will play host to what is known as a Belousov-Zhabotinsky or B-Z chemical reaction. Simply put, reactions of this type can be initiated by changing the concentration of the element bromine by a certain threshold amount.

The reactions are unusual for a number of reasons.

But for the computing application, what is important is that after the arrival of a chemical signal to start it, the cell enters a "refractory period" during which further chemical signals do not influence the reaction.

That keeps a signal from propagating unchecked through any connected cells.

Such self-contained systems that react under their own chemical power to a stimulus above a threshold have an analogue in nature: neurons.
Neuron (SPL)
Each neuron in our brains can be viewed as a chemical computer

"Every neuron is like a molecular computer; ours is a very crude abstraction of what neurons do," said Dr Zauner.

"But the essence of neurons is the capability to get 'excited'; it can re-form an input signal and has its own energy supply so it can fire out a new signal."

This propagation of a chemical signal - along with the "refractory period" that keeps it contained within a given cell - means the cells can form networks that function like the brain.

'Real chance'

Frantisek Stepanek, a chemical computing researcher at the Institute of Chemical Technology Prague in the Czech Republic, said the pairing of the two ideas was promising.

"If one day we want to construct computers of similar power and complexity to the human brain, my bet would be on some form of chemical or molecular computing," he told BBC News.

"I think this project stands a real chance of bringing chemical computing from the concept stage to a practical demonstration of a functional prototype."

For its part, the team is already hard at work proving the idea will work.

"Officially the project doesn't start until the first of February," said Dr Zauner, "but we were so curious about it we already sent some lipids to our collaborators in Poland - they've already shown the lipid layers are stable."

Devaluation ups stakes in Venezuela election year

UPDATE 1-Devaluation ups stakes in Venezuela election year
Sat Jan 9, 2010 2:05pm EST
Related News

CARACAS, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Venezuelans rushed to the shops on Saturday, fearful of price rises after a currency devaluation that will let President Hugo Chavez boost government spending ahead of an election but feeds opposition charges of economic mismanagement.

In a bid to jump-start the recession-hit economy of South America's top oil exporter, Chavez on Friday announced a dual system for the fixed rate bolivar.

It devalues the currency to 4.3 and 2.6 against the dollar, from a rate of 2.15 per dollar in place since 2005, giving the better rate for basic goods in an attempt to limit the impact of the measure on consumer prices.

The opposition seized on fears that prices for imported goods will double as shoppers formed lines of more than a hundred people outside some stores in the capital Caracas.

"It was a Black Friday, tinted red," said sales executive Diana Sevillana in reference to the crimson color of Chavez's socialist party. She stood in a line of 30 people outside an electrical goods store in a middle class neighborhood.

The socialist Chavez believes the state should have a weighty role in managing the economy. During his 11 years in office he has nationalized most heavy industry, and business and finance are tightly regulated.

The devaluation is politically risky but means every dollar of oil revenue puts more bolivars in government coffers. That allows Chavez to lavish cash on social projects and fund salary increases ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

Opponents were quick to criticize the socialist, who a year ago promised the global financial crisis would not touch "a hair" of Venezuela's economy. He announced the devaluation on Friday night during an important baseball game.

"By establishing the exchange rate at 4.3 bolivars per dollar, the quality of life for Venezuelans is automatically devalued since we now have half the money we had before," said Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, a Chavez opponent.


Opposition parties, emboldened by public dissatisfaction at frequent blackouts and water shortages and a 2.9 percent economic contraction in 2009, hope to strip Chavez of his legislative majority in September.

The devaluation is embarrassing for Chavez, who resisted calls from economists and many government allies to make the move last year when oil prices were at their lowest and elections a long way off.

"Venezuela's decision to devalue the Bolivar culminates an event that the market has been anticipating for a long time," said Walter Molano, an analyst at BCP Securities. "It helps alleviate the country's fiscal woes and puts it on a sounder macroeconomic footing."

The measure is a relief for state oil company PDVSA, which has struggled to pay service providers and meet requirements to fund social projects since crude prices dropped sharply last year. It also makes Venezuelan businesses more competitive.

Holders of Venezuela's foreign debt are also pleased, since the devaluation improves government finances and lessens the need to issue more bonds.

However, Chavez risks taking a blow to his popularity ratings, which are about 50 percent, as prices for many products inevitably will rise in the country of 28 million people, which relies on imports for much of its consumption.

Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said the devaluation will add 3 percent to 5 percent to inflation, already the highest in the Americas at 25 percent last year.

"The popularity of the government is obviously going to be sharply and negatively affected," said economist Pedro Palma. "The inflationary impact of the measure diminishes the real income of people. People can consume less."

The new two-tiered exchange system offers the 2.6/dollar rate for goods deemed essential including food, medicine and industrial machinery. Other products, including cars and telephones, will be imported at the higher 4.3 rate.

Last month, BMO Capital Markets cut ratings on Colgate-Palmolive Co (CL.N), Avon Products Inc (AVP.N) and Kimberly-Clark Corp (KMB.N) to "market perform" saying a possible devaluation in Venezuela could hurt the U.S. consumer goods makers' profits.

Economist Pavel Gomez of the IESA economic school said the new system will increase opportunities for graft in a country that already is corruption-ridden.

"Multiple exchange schemes are incentives for corruption, more so if they are applied in the Venezuela way," he said. "Those who have good contacts can buy at 2.6 and sell at 4.3."

Chavez, whose popularity usually rises in correlation with public spending, also said on Friday that the Central Bank had transferred $7 billion of foreign reserves to a development fund used to finance investment projects.

(Additional reporting by Hugh Bronstein in Bogota, editing by Vicki Allen)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

'Bodies' exhibition accused of putting executed Chinese prisoners on show Read more:

By Christopher Leake
Last updated at 11:20 AM on 10th January 2010

The bodies of executed Chinese prisoners are being used in a ghoulish exhibition of ‘plastinated’ corpses, it was claimed last night.

Human rights activist Dr David Nicholl is demanding the Human Tissue Authority – which granted a licence for the Bodies Revealed show in Birmingham – should shut it down because it is a ‘crime scene’.

The controversial event is organised by US-based Premier Exhibitions, which insists all the cadavers came from individuals who chose to donate their bodies to medical science.

But Dr Nicholl, a consultant at Birmingham City Hospital, says he is convinced the body parts – preserved in polymer – come from executed Chinese prisoners or victims of torture.

He accused the organisers of taking ‘blood money’ by charging a £14 entrance fee for the show.

Dr Nicholl said: ‘We are asking a simple question – “Can you guarantee the bodies are not those of people executed in China?”.

'If the organisers are unable to answer this, then we think the authorities should be looking to close this exhibition.’

Last night, the British Liver Trust, a charity that fights liver disease, withdrew its previous support for the exhibition.

Chief executive Dr Alison Rogers said the organisers had not been able to give her an ‘unequivocal’ guarantee that the bodies had not been victims of execution or torture.

The Mail on Sunday has established that Premier Exhibitions provided the Human Tissue Authority with an affidavit, written in Chinese, which showed the bodies were from China.

One of the bodies from the Bodies Revealed exhibition in Birmingham

Premier has been mired in controversy since paying more than £15million for human remains from northern China in the mid-Nineties.

The Chinese suppliers had previously been accused of using the bodies of executed prisoners for commercial purposes.

The Human Tissue Authority said in line with its Code of Practice the exhibitors had to provide assurances that the bodies on display were donated for that purpose.

A spokesman said: ‘Our standards must be met while the bodies are in the UK. For example, the tissue must be treated with respect.’

A statement from the exhibitors said its suppliers had confirmed all of the bodies and organ specimens in Bodies Revealed came from individuals who chose to donate their bodies to medical science and are ‘deceased from natural causes’.

They said examinations of the specimens found no evidence of physical abuse.

Read more:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Taiwan firm: China got Iran part with nuke uses

* AP foreign, Friday January 8 2010


Associated Press Writer= TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A Taiwanese company agreed to a request from a firm in China to procure sensitive components with nuclear uses, then shipped them to Iran, the firm's head said Friday. Such transactions violate U.N. sanctions imposed on the Middle Eastern nation.

The admission by Steven Lin of Hsinchu-based Heli-Ocean Technology Co. Ltd. comes amid an international effort led by the United States to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. While Lin said he didn't know whether the parts — a vital component in the production of weapons-grade uranium — were eventually used by Iran militarily, he did acknowledge that they have nuclear applications.

U.N. sanctions to prevent Iran from expanding its uranium enrichment program have led it to the black market to obtain sophisticated nuclear-related equipment. Aided by these illegal purchases, the program has grown to the stage where thousands of centrifuges are churning out enriched material, which can be used both for fuel or as the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Iran insists that it wants to enrich uranium to generate nuclear power, but its attempts to evade probes by the International Atomic Energy Agency and its refusal to stop enrichment are increasing suspicions it actually seeks weapons capabilities.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Lin said he received an Internet order from a Chinese firm in January or February 2008 to obtain an unspecified number of pressure transducers, which convert pressure into analog electrical signals.

While pressure transducers have many commercial uses, they furnish the precise measurements needed in the production of weapons-grade uranium.

Nuclear proliferation expert David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security told the AP that Iran tried hard to procure the transducers in Europe and Canada, but was thwarted by a concerted international effort.

However, he said, the existence of the Taiwanese-Chinese connection shows that Iran still has the ability to get what it needs by tapping alternative sources.

"This equipment is likely for its gas centrifuge program," he said.

Lin did not identify the Chinese company that placed the transducer order, except to say that it was involved in the manufacture of pipeline for the oil industry.

He said that he obtained the transducers from a Swiss company, which he declined to name.

Lin said that when he contacted the Swiss firm he had no idea where the transducers were heading.

"It was only at the last minute that the Chinese told me to send them to Iran," he said.

Lin arranged for their direct transportation from Taiwan to the Middle East, he said, rather than sending them to the Chinese company first.

Lin said that he didn't know what happened to the transducers after they arrived in Iran, though he acknowledged that they have an important role in the nuclear industry.

"I know that the (peaceful) nuclear research units in Taiwan use these things," he said. "The equipment has multiple uses from semiconductors to solar energy to nuclear work."

A Taiwanese government official told the AP on Friday that an official probe of the Taiwanese-Iranian transducer connection confirmed that 108 of the transducers had been sent from Taiwan to Iran at a Chinese request, but that the equipment was not precise enough to be placed on the island's export control list.

The official, who was in charge of the probe, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Beside being prohibited by the U.N. from pressure transducer purchases, Iran is also banned from buying them on the open market by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an international body established to limit nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials that can be used in building atomic weapons.

Asked about the circuitous route of the transducer transaction — from China to Taiwan to Switzerland, then back to Taiwan and finally to Iran — the Taiwanese official said that such deals were common in international trade.

"It is fairly common to do business through third parties," he said. He did not elaborate.

The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons secretly under the guise of a civilian atomic energy program, but Tehran insists its efforts are aimed only at generating electricity.

Washington has been pressing both China and Russia to agree to stepped up sanctions to pressure Iran into stopping its alleged nuclear program, but so far without result.

Over the past several years China has been accused of directly aiding the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons development on a number of occasions. Washington has enacted sanctions against several Chinese companies. China has denied involvement in Iran's nuclear programs.

At the same time, Beijing has courted close relations with Iran, with Chinese state companies purchasing Iranian oil and investing in Iran's energy industry.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Witch-doctors reveal extent of child sacrifice in Uganda

By Tim Whewell
BBC News, Uganda

A BBC investigation into human sacrifice in Uganda has heard first-hand accounts which suggest ritual killings of children may be more common than authorities have acknowledged.

One witch-doctor led us to his secret shrine and said he had clients who regularly captured children and brought their blood and body parts to be consumed by spirits.

Meanwhile, a former witch-doctor who now campaigns to end child sacrifice confessed for the first time to having murdered about 70 people, including his own son.

The Ugandan government told us that human sacrifice is on the increase, and according to the head of the country's Anti-Human Sacrifice Taskforce the crime is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity, and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly.

In the course of our investigation we witnessed the ritual torching of the shrine of a particularly active witch-doctor in northern Uganda by anti-sacrifice campaigners.

The witch-doctor allowed ceremonial items including conch shells and animal skins to be burned in his sacred grove after agreeing to give up sacrifice.

He told us that clients had come to him in search of wealth.

"They capture other people's children. They bring the heart and the blood directly here to take to the spirits… They bring them in small tins and they place these objects under the tree from which the voices of the spirits are coming," he said.

Asked how often clients brought blood and body parts, the witch-doctor said they came "on average three times a week - with all that the spirits demand from them."

We saw a beaker of blood and what appeared to be a large, raw liver in the shrine before it was destroyed, although it was not possible to determine whether they were human remains.


The witch-doctor denied any direct involvement in murder or incitement to murder, saying his spirits spoke directly to his clients.

He told us he was paid 500,000 Ugandan shillings (£160 or $260) for a consultation, but that most of that money was handed over to his "boss" in a nationwide network of witch-doctors.

Mutilated three-year old with his parents
Three-year-old Mukisa had his genitals cut off by a witch-doctor

In pictures: Children in danger

Head of the Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Task Force, assistant commissioner Moses Binoga of the Ugandan police, said he knew of the boss referred to - involved in one of five or six witch-doctor protection rackets operating in the country.

"The senior ones extort money from lower people because they deal in illegal things," he told us.

Mr Binoga said police had opened 26 murder cases in 2009, in which the victim appeared to have been ritually sacrificed, compared with just three cases in 2007.

"We also have about 120 children and adults reported missing whose fate we have not traced. We cannot rule out that they may be victims of human sacrifice," he said.

But child protection campaigners believe the real number is much higher, as some disappearances are not reported to police.


Former witch-doctor turned anti-sacrifice campaigner Polino Angela says he has persuaded 2,400 other witch-doctors to give up the trade since he himself repented in 1990.

James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda's Minister for Ethics and Integrity
To punish retrospectively would cause a problem... if we can persuade Ugandans to change, that is much better than going back into the past
James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda's Minister of Ethics and Integrity

Mr Angela told us he had first been initiated as a witch-doctor at a ceremony in neighbouring Kenya, where a boy of about 13 was sacrificed.

"The child was cut with a knife on the neck and the entire length from the neck down was ripped open, and then the open part was put on me," he said.

When he returned to Uganda he says he was told by those who had initiated him to kill his own son, aged 10.

"I deceived my wife and made sure that everyone else had gone away and I was with my child alone. Once he was placed down on the ground, I used a big knife and brought it down like a guillotine."

Asked if he was afraid he might now be prosecuted as a result of confessing to killing 70 people, he said:

"I have been to all the churches… and they know me as a warrior in the drive to end witchcraft that involves human sacrifice, so I think that alone should indemnify me and have me exonerated."

Uganda's Minister of Ethics and Integrity James Nsaba Buturo believes that "to punish retrospectively would cause a problem... if we can persuade Ugandans to change, that is much better than going back into the past."

Child protection activists in organisations such as FAPAD (Facilitation for Peace and Development) and ANPPCAN (African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect) have highlighted recent cases of ritual killing and called for new legislation to regulate so-called "traditional healers".

Witness testimony

In some cases against alleged witch-doctors due to come to trial later this year, police will use the testimony of children who managed to survive abduction.

One such witness is a three-year-old boy called Mukisa, who was left for dead after his penis was hacked off by an assailant.

He survived thanks to quick work by surgeons, and later told police he had been mutilated by a neighbour who is known to keep a shrine.

Mukisa's mother told us: "Every time I look at him, I ask myself how his future is going to be - a man without a penis - and how the rest of the community will look at him, with private parts that can neither be attributed to a man or a woman. Every time I recall the normal birth that I had and the way Mukisa is now, it is like the end of the world."