Sunday, February 07, 2016

Seduction of smart technologies and the creeping paralysis of virtual reality...

(...)

The madness of geoengineering our climate and smart phone engineering our brains is linked. Put superficially, the more you look down at your flickering gizmo, the less likely you are to look up and witness the engineered cloud formations grid-lining our once blue skies. Or for that matter, the beauty and subtlety of nature or the grace and dignity of fine architecture.

In fact, a disposition towards ‘not seeing’ has been on the rise for at least two or three decades now. It applies to vaccinations, GMOs, food additives, radiation, electro smog, and so many more creeping weapons of the ‘silent wars’ assailing our planet and our physiological and mental capacities.

One might try to dismiss these devitalizing agents as necessary evils of the convenience age in a society dependent upon instant fixes, instant communications, instant satisfactions and instant just about everything. One might…until one realises that they are impregnating and polluting our blood stream, subtly altering our DNA, and changing our very nature from the inside out … and from the outside in.

What kind of insanity is this? Full story...

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Zika: Update from Brazil: Towering non-evidence...

I can now provide the latest update on what researchers in Brazil are discovering, as they dig into their original findings about the Zika virus and cases of microcephaly (babies born with small heads and brain impairment).

A correspondent has offered a translation of an article that appeared in one of the major Sao Paulo newspapers, O Estado de São Paulo, on February 2nd, “País tem 404 casos confirmados de microcefalia”:

It is obvious that no significant connection between microcephaly and the Zika virus has been found. It’s not even close. So far, therefore, there is absolutely no reason to trumpet an epidemic of Zika. Doing so is quite insane, by any reasonable standard.


Here are the principal facts in the article (after which I’ll comment): Full story...

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Arundhati Roy caught in the crossfire of Indian judicial power struggle...

Her fictional tale of bitter rivalries between castes, religions and Communist zealots in the tropical south of 1960s India won her a Booker Prize.

But novelist Arundhati Roy could soon be jailed for contempt after getting caught up in a real-life “sectarian” rivalry between two Indian courthouses.

The author of The God of Small Things stands formally accused of making “scandalous and scurrilous allegations” against the Indian judiciary over an article she wrote in May 2015 calling for the release on bail of an alleged Maoist professor.

In the article Ms Roy, who has become a bête noire of the Indian establishment in recent years, contended that there was “much to suggest” that authorities do not want the severely disabled Professor GN Saibaba to “come out of the Nagpur central jail alive”.

 As a result, a court in Nagpur - where Prof Saibaba remains incarcerated - issued contempt proceedings against her in December. Full story...

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Saturday, February 06, 2016

200 million women and girls live with female genital mutilation...

They covered her face and laid her down.

What happened next, Agnes wishes no girl would ever experience.

"They grabbed my legs and arms," she said. "They excised me. Blood was coming out."

Her genitals had been mutilated.

Agnes, now 14, underwent the procedure in Cote D'Ivoire. But the practice is by no means limited to that one country, or even to just a few.

At least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries now live with female genital mutilation, according to a new UNICEF report published in time for Saturday's International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, as the practice is often abbreviated.

The report says 70 million more victims than previously thought have undergone the "violent practice."

The exact number remains unknown. Full story...

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School lunch in Japan: it's not just about eating...

French law forbids food waste by supermarkets...

France has become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks.

Under a law passed unanimously by the French senate, as of Wednesday large shops will no longer bin good quality food approaching its best-before date. Charities will be able to give out millions more free meals each year to people struggling to afford to eat.

The law follows a grassroots campaign in France by shoppers, anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste. The campaign, which led to a petition, was started by the councillor Arash Derambarsh. In December a bill on the issue passed through the national assembly, having been introduced by the former food industry minister Guillaume Garot.

Campaigners now hope to persuade the EU to adopt similar legislation across member states.

The law has been welcomed by food banks, which will now begin the task of finding the extra volunteers, lorries, warehouse anFulld fridge space to deal with an increase in donations from shops and food companies. Full story...

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Denmark confirms US sent rendition flight for Snowden...

Denmark’s justice minister admitted on Friday that the US sent a rendition flight to Copenhagen Airport that was meant to capture whistleblower Edward Snowden and return him to the United States.

The revelation that the US landed a private aircraft in Copenhagen intended to capture Snowden in June 2013 was first reported last month by the Danish online media Denfri, but Danish officials initially denied the report.

On Friday however it was reported that Justice Minister Søren Pind told parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee that the Danish government did allow the Americans to use both Danish airspace and the airport knowing full well that the aircraft was intended to take a captured Snowden back to the US.

“The purpose of the plane’s presence at Copenhagen Airport was apparently to have the ability to transport Edward Snowden to the USA in case he was delivered from Russia or another country,” Pind said in a written statement.

 As recently as Wednesday, Pind said that he “wasn’t aware of the purpose of the aircraft in question”. Full story...

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Wife facing jail for not doing enough housework!!!

A woman is facing the prospect of a six-year prison sentence because she doesn’t do enough housework.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to 21st century Italy.

Her husband is accusing her of ‘mistreatment of the family’ over her failure to do the cooking and cleaning.

He accused her of ‘poor management of the household chores’ according to Il Fatto Quotidiano, which added that a lot of food ended up being wasted because it hand’t been eaten.

The poor, neglected husband has also claimed that she kicked him out of the bedroom and that he had been insulted by two years of negligence and being ‘forced to live in conditions with poor hygiene’.

She will go on trial on October 12. Source...

‘You created ISIS!’ Press conference scandal mars Kerry’s visit to Italy...

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Italy was disrupted by a cry of protest at his joint press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, when a woman in the audience shouted, “it’s you who created Daesh!”

The press conference was coming to an end, when the woman stood up from the public, her head covered up by a black veil.

“It’s you who created Daesh!” she shouted at the two ministers, using another name for the terror group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), reported the Italian state-owned television channel RAI.

The woman was dragged away from the conference by the Carabinieri. Full story...

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

India mob strips Tanzanian student in Bangalore...

A Tanzanian student was assaulted and partially stripped by a mob in the southern Indian city of Bangalore after a Sudanese student's car ran over and killed a local woman.

The mob attacked the 21-year-old woman and her three friends - all Tanzanians - as they were passing by the accident site a little later.

The crowd chased the young woman and "removed her top", police said.

Tanzanian embassy officials have sought a report into the incident.

The incident took place on Sunday night, but was first reported only on Tuesday.

Police told BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi in Bangalore that a mob gathered in Hessarghatta area after an allegedly drunk student from Sudan ran his car over a woman sleeping on the roadside.

The mob beat up the man and set fire to his car, but he managed to escape. Full story...

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A history of Japan...

Ambitious TPP trade deal signed...

The ambitious Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been formally signed in Auckland even as the US struggles to get the pact ratified in Congress.

The trade deal looks to facilitate investment between 12 countries across the Pacific Rim, which together account for about 40% of the global economy.

This includes Singapore, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia and Mexico.

The TPP was agreed in October after years of negotiations and multiple missed deadlines.

The US-led initiative is a key part of President Barack Obama's so-called pivot to Asia but has proved to be a controversial issue ahead of the US elections in November. Full story...

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806 people died by falling off trains in 2015 in Mumbai...

A heart wrenching video of a 55-year-old woman, Kiran Kothari, falling to death from a train at Borivli station on January 15 recently got viral. However, Kothari is not the only one to have succumbed this way.

According to the statistics provided by the government railway police, as many as 2,500 persons had died after falling from trains in the past 3 years. In 2015, there were 806 such casualties, while 479 people had died natural death, reveals statistics.

According to the GRP statistics, in 2015 as many as 3349 people (including 588 women) have died in railway premises. Of them, 806 persons (including 66 women) had died by falling off trains, while 479 persons died naturally.

Last year, Dombivli resident Bhavesh Nakate had died by falling off train and his last minute video wherein he was seen trying desperately to get into a crowded compartment had gone viral. This incident prompted the authorities to take action on those commuters who travel on foot-boards. Full story...

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TPP 'fundamentally flawed,' should be resisted - UN human rights expert...

The top United Nations expert on human rights has called on the 12 nations considering the Trans-Pacific Partnership to reject the massive trade agreement since in its current form it "is out of step with today’s international human rights regime.”

Acknowledging global opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) because of the agreement's "undemocratic pedigree,"Alfred de Zayas, the UN's independent expert on the promotion of democratic and equitable international order, said the largest trade agreement in decades "is fundamentally flawed and should not be signed or ratified unless provision is made to guarantee the regulatory space of States."

"I am concerned that notwithstanding enormous opposition by civil society worldwide, twelve countries are about to sign an agreement, which is the product of secret negotiations without multi-stakeholder democratic consultation," de Zayas said in a statement ahead of a February 4 gathering in New Zealand of trade representatives for the 12 Pacific Rim nations involved in the secretive TPP talks.

“Trade agreements are not ‘stand-alone’ legal regimes, but must conform with fundamental principles of international law, including transparency and accountability," de Zayas said. [Trade agreements] must not delay, circumvent, undermine or make impossible the fulfillment of human rights treaty obligations." Full story...

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Worried about your liver? Drink COFFEE: Two cups a day 'can halve the risk of damage caused by alcohol'

Two cups of coffee a day can help stave off liver disease caused by drinking too much alcohol, scientists claimed today.

In fact, regular consumption of the drink slashed the risk of the risk of liver cirrhosis by 44 per cent.

Researchers from the University of Southampton reviewed nine long-term studies involving almost half a million men and women from six countries.

They found that those who drank two cups of coffee every day were less likely to suffer from liver cirrhosis or die from it. Full story...

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No wonder French losing faith in Hollande's war on terror...

Since being elected Hollande has hardly enjoyed the backing of the French public.

They lost trust in his ability to solve record unemployment and a floundering economy a long time ago, but when it came to terror and "war", Hollande seemed to have the confidence of the people.

Amid the shock and the grief of two terror attacks, Hollande for once gave the impression of being in control of the country as he vowed not to give in to terror and insisted France’s principles of liberté and laicité would win through.

 But it appears his convincing impersonation of a wartime leader has worn off with a poll this week showing that six out of ten respondents do not trust him to lead the fight on terror, a rise since a similar poll was taken last in November. Full story...

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Now Austria wants to PAY migrants hundreds to LEAVE in desperate bid to ease crisis...

AUSTRIA plans to pay migrants £380 each to go back to their homeland in a desperate bid to ease the deepening crisis.

The country’s government hopes the last-ditch tactic will help encourage a staggering 50,000 migrants to leave the country by 2019.

According to officials in Vienna, the full sum will only be paid if the migrant decides to leave quickly before the government rules on their asylum case.

The drastic plans have been drawn up by the country’s foreign ministry, interior ministry and defence ministry – which will be flying thousands of migrants home.

Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said the country has one of the highest deportation levels in Europe. Full story...

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Worried about Zika? Here's some other bugs you're more likely to catch...

Zika virus is "spreading explosively" across Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the World Health Organization. As many as 4 million people could be infected over the next year, and scientists are racing to determine whether the virus is causing an increase in microcephaly, a birth defect that can kill babies or cause lifelong disability.

But U.S. government health officials say Zika's unlikely to spread much in the U.S., although they say small, occasional outbreaks are possible as travelers bring the virus back and get bitten by mosquitoes. And that risk is mostly confined to the far south, because the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that spread Zika don't live in colder climates.

 Even then, the risk might only be for women who are currently pregnant, because 80 percent of people infected by Zika don't even feel sick at all. But there are some other mosquito-borne illnesses that are worth watching out for. They're endemic in the U.S., meaning they are here year-round. Here are a few of them: Full story...

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Swede becomes first person to board a plane with just a wave of his hand...

As throngs of weary travellers streamed through one of Europe’s busiest travel hubs, the female security guard at Stockholm Arlanda Airport looked up at Andreas Sjostrom, confused.

Somehow, without a boarding pass or even a smartphone, Sjostrom had managed to activate her scanner, and the system was telling her to let him in.

Sjostrom is not a robot or a Jason Bourne-style secret assassin; he’s simply a curious Swede who decided to have a microchip implanted in his hand with his frequent flyer identification number on it.

He’s the first person in the world to get on a plane this way, sailing through security, then into the Scandinavian Airlines lounge and onto his flight to Paris in late December.

“It was a fluent experience,” Sjostrom, the vice-president of digital for a tech consulting company, told the Star by phone from Stockholm. Full story...

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Yazidi ex-slave girls subjected to traumatic ‘virginity tests’ to prove ISIS abuse...

Having escaped abuse at the hands of Islamic State militants, Yazidi girls and women have been forced to undergo painful “virginity tests” to prove to Iraqi courts that they had been raped, Human Rights Watch has discovered.

A report looking into the post-ISIS fate of Yazidi women in Iraq was posted on the human rights organization’s website by Rothna Begum, a WRD researcher, on Wednesday.

One of them, a girl named Luna, says she was kidnapped by Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants, sold four times, and raped by all of her “owners.”

“Survivors my colleague and I interviewed, described organized rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by ISIS,” the report reads.

The victims described in the report were in need of psychological help, health care, and other services. While officials in Iraqi Kurdistan took their plight seriously, they still forced the girls and women to undergo “virginity tests” to confirm that they had been abused. Full story...

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Teenage vampires...

Saudi Arabia is killing civilians with US bombs...

Saudi Arabia has engaged in war crimes, and the United States is aiding and abetting them by providing the Saudis with military assistance. In September 2015, Saudi aircraft killed 135 wedding celebrants in Yemen. The air strikes have killed 2,800 civilians, including 500 children. Human Rights Watch charges that these bombings “have indiscriminately killed and injured civilians.”

This conflict is part of a regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are bombing Yemen in order to defeat the Houthi rebels, who have been resisting government repression for a long time. Iran has been accused of supporting the Houthis, although Iran denies this. Yemen is strategically located on a narrow waterway that links the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea. Much of the world’s oil passes through this waterway.

A United Nations panel of experts concluded in October 2015 that the Saudi-led coalition had committed “grave violations” of civilians’ human rights. They include indiscriminate attacks; targeting markets, a camp for displaced Yemenis, and humanitarian aid warehouses; and intentionally preventing the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The panel was also concerned that the coalition considered civilian neighborhoods, including Marra and Sadah, as legitimate strike zones. The International Committee of the Red Cross documented 100 attacks on hospitals.

Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits the targeting of civilians. It provides that parties to a conflict “shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.” Full story...

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The U.S. intervention in Libya was such a smashing success that a sequel is coming...

The immediate aftermath of the NATO bombing of Libya was a time of high gloating. Just as Iraq War advocates pointed to the capture and killing of Saddam Hussein as proof that their war was a success, Libya war advocates pointed to the capture and brutal killing of Muammar el-Qaddafi as proof of their vindication. War advocates such as Anne-Marie Slaughter and Nicholas Kristof were writing columns celebrating their prescience and mocking war opponents as discredited, and the New York Times published a front-page article declaring: “U.S. Tactics in Libya May be a Model for Other Efforts.” It was widely expected that Hillary Clinton, one of the leading advocates for and architects of the bombing campaign, would be regarded as a Foreign Policy Visionary for the grand Libya success: “We came, we saw, he died,” Clinton sociopathically boasted about the mob rape and murder of Qaddafi while guffawing on 60 Minutes.

Since then, Libya — so predictably — has all but completely collapsed, spending years now drowning in instability, anarchy, fractured militia rule, sectarian conflict, and violent extremism. The execution of Saddam Hussein was no vindication of that war nor a sign of improved lives for Iraqis, and the same was true for the mob killing of Qaddafi. As I wrote the day after Qaddafi fled Tripoli and Democratic Party loyalists were prancing around in war victory dances: “I’m genuinely astounded at the pervasive willingness to view what has happened in Libya as some sort of grand triumph even though virtually none of the information needed to make that assessment is known yet, including: how many civilians have died, how much more bloodshed will there be, what will be needed to stabilize that country, and, most of all, what type of regime will replace Qaddafi? … When foreign powers use military force to help remove a tyrannical regime that has ruled for decades, all sorts of chaos, violence, instability, and suffering — along with a slew of unpredictable outcomes — are inevitable.” Full story...

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The blessing and curse of the people who never forget...

For most of us, memory is a kind of scrapbook, a mess of blurred and faded snapshots of our lives. As much as we would like to cling on to our past, even the most poignant moments can be washed away with time.

Ask Nima Veiseh what he was doing for any day in the past 15 years, however, and he will give you the minutiae of the weather, what he was wearing, or even what side of the train he was sitting on his journey to work.

“My memory is like a library of VHS tapes, walk-throughs of every day of my life from waking to sleeping,” he explains.

Veiseh can even put a date on when those reels started recording: 15 December 2000, when he met his first girlfriend at his best friend’s 16th birthday party. He had always had a good memory, but the thrill of young love seems to have shifted a gear in his mind: from now on, he would start recording his whole life in detail. “I could tell you everything about every day after that.” Full story...

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30 years after explosion, Challenger engineer still blames himself...

Thirty years ago, as the nation mourned the loss of seven astronauts on the space shuttle Challenger, Bob Ebeling was steeped in his own deep grief.

The night before the launch, Ebeling and four other engineers at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol had tried to stop the launch. Their managers and NASA overruled them.

That night, he told his wife, Darlene, "It's going to blow up."

When Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, Ebeling and his colleagues sat stunned in a conference room at Thiokol's headquarters outside Brigham City, Utah. They watched the spacecraft explode on a giant television screen and they knew exactly what had happened.

Three weeks later, Ebeling and another engineer separately and anonymously detailed to NPR the first account of that contentious pre-launch meeting. Both were despondent and in tears as they described hours of data review and arguments. The data showed that the rubber seals on the shuttle's booster rockets wouldn't seal properly in cold temperatures and this would be the coldest launch ever. Full story...

Moscow's young homeless seek refuge in sewers...

We had been invited by a group of homeless people to see their 'winter hideout' - the spot where they hunkered down through the long and bitter Russian winter.

But it was difficult to imagine a secret hideout in a part of the city dominated by factories and distribution centres.

The second thought I had, as the wheels of our car slipped and spun in the heavy snow, was "how do they manage to survive at all?"

The temperature was plunging and it was snowing so hard, we could barely see where we were going.

Nonetheless, we saw two young men emerge from the roadside and beckon us towards a little wood, sandwiched between a several walled compounds. We followed the pair down a well-trodden path and wondered what we would find at the end. Full story...

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The power of privacy...

Finally! French act in Altantuya murder case...

The former boss of a French defense company has been indicted in Paris on charges of bribing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, involving one of the most notorious scandals in Malaysian history, including sex, corruption, murder and political chicanery.

Bernard Baiocco, 72, former president of Thales International Asia (Thint Asia), a unit controlled by the French munitions manufacturer DCN, was indicted on Dec 15. for “active bribery of foreign public officials on people including Najib Razak,” according to Agence France Press, quoting judicial sources.

Najib is enmeshed in yet another monumental scandal in Malaysia today over US$681 million mysteriously deposited in his personal account in AmBank Malaysia in 2013 that has nothing to do with the affair when he was defense minister, although both cases illustrate the depth of corruption that has overtaken Malaysia. At least four questionable deaths, three of which were outright murder, have been linked to various cases involving Najib.

As stories have increasingly tied him to wrongdoing, he has sought to intimidate the domestic press, most of it owned by government-aligned political parties. He has sought vainly to buy up opposition websites and has blocked two of the toughest international critics, Asia Sentinel and Sarawak Report, as well as Medium, a popular blog platform used as a mirror site for opposition publications. Full story...

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How India fell in love with a porn star named Sunny...

Five years ago, Sunny Leone was a moderately successful Canadian porn star. Today she is one of Bollywood’s most in-demand actresses, earning millions of rupees as she fills cinemas, hosts her own television shows and endorses lucrative brands.

Her new film, Mastizaade, opened in around 2,000 cinemas, after its trailer had been viewed a record 13 million times on YouTube. Despite terrible reviews, a sequel is already planned.

India – a country where matrimonial ads placed by parents in newspapers are listed by caste, homosexuality remains illegal, and even public displays of affection are strictly taboo – appears to have fallen in love with a porn star.

 “We never had someone like Sunny Leone before, that’s for sure,” said Prabhat Choudhary, who runs leading Bollywood talent agency Spice PR. Full story...

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Despite abuses, Saudi Arabia aims to recruit 15000 Somali maids...

In Saudi Arabia, employers have a history of abusing foreign domestic workers lured by the promise of well-paid jobs in what former workers described as an exploitation of desperate Africans facing grim choices.

New cases of abuses against Somali domestic workers in Saudi Arabia are still being reported, with employers often beat, and deny food and payments of Somali maids. In some cases male employers rape them in addition to reports of Somali maids who had their eyes gouged out by their employers.

Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda have recently banned their citizens from seeking jobs in Saudi Arabia in a bid to end the exploitation, making domestic workers from Somalia the only alternative left for Saudi employers after most of African and Asians rejected their recruitment request.

Pushing for a new mass recruitment drive, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor on Tuesday announced the opening of recruiting operations of domestic workers from Somalia while setting terms and conditions.

According to the Saudi newspaper Arab News, Somali maids would have fulfill conditions set by the ministry as that applicants are acquire to have a certificate from the Somali Ministry of Security stating they have no previous criminal records, besides vaccination certificates against contagious diseases. Full story...

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Stalin 'used secret laboratory to analyse Mao's excrement'

By the sound of things, it was a top secret and rather smelly experiment.

According to Russian newspaper reports, in the 1940s Stalin's secret police had set up a special department to get its hands on people's faeces.

The ambitious aim: to analyse samples of foreign leaders' stools.

In other words, espionage via excrement.

It is former Soviet agent Igor Atamanenko who claims to have uncovered this unusual project, while doing research in the archives of the Russian secret services.

"In those days the Soviets didn't have the kind of listening devices which secret services do today," he told the paper. Full story...

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112-year-old woman puts her age down to smoking 30 cigs a day...

A 112-year-old woman has credited her old age to chain smoking 30 cigarettes a day – for 95 years.

Batuli Lamichhane was born in March 1903 – and took up smoking when she was 17.

She claims it’s her daily habit that has helped her outlive almost everyone else in her village – and her own children.

She said: ‘I dont really care how old I am. But I am old nonetheless. I have seen a lot of things change during my lifetime.’

But despite her age, Batuli continues to be a chain smoker. She smokes as many as 30 cigarettes a day. Full story...

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Is the dreaded Zika virus another giant scam?

Hysteria sells and…

It’s hysteria time again. Let me run it down for you.

This is the word: The dreaded Zika virus! Watch out! It’s carried by mosquitos! It can cause birth defects—babies are born with very small heads and impaired brains!

Here are a few scare headlines that were running on Drudge as of 1/26:

“Brazil sends 200,000 soldiers to stop spread of Zika.”

“Stay away from Rio if you’re pregnant.”

“’Losing battle’ against mosquito.”

“Virus threatening two continents.”

Want more hysteria? The Daily Mail indicates pregnant women are being warned not to travel to 22 countries in Latin America and Africa. Several Zika cases are being reported in Italy, the UK, and Spain. Full story...

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The world of Nigeria's sex-trafficking 'Air Lords'

It's 08:00 in the Catalan Police Headquarters on the outskirts of Barcelona and Xavi Cortes, head of the anti-trafficking unit, waits patiently for his 22 teams to confirm they are in position. Finally, he gives the order.

Two-hundred-and-fifty officers quietly climb out of their police vans. Single file, each team approaches a residential building watched by a few surprised neighbours.

On reaching the door, one of the masked police officers uses his fingers to count down. Three, two, one. The door is knocked down, the silence shattered, the officers rush inside.

The raid results in the arrest of the leaders of a Nigerian-based group running an international sex-trafficking ring in Barcelona. It's known as the Supreme Eiye Confraternity (SEC), or the Air Lords, and 23 people are now behind bars, with European Arrest Warrants issued for those who have left the country. Full story...

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India, Egypt say no thanks to free Internet from Facebook...

Connecting people to the Internet is not easy in this impoverished farming district of wheat and millet fields, where working camels can be glimpsed along roads that curve through the low-slung Aravalli Hills.

So when Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg helicoptered in about a year ago to visit a small computer lab and tout Internet for all, Osama Manzar, director of India’s Digital Empowerment Foundation, was thrilled.

But when Manzar tried Facebook’s limited free Internet service, he was bitterly disappointed. The app, called Free Basics, is a pared-down version of Facebook with other services, such as weather reports and job listings.

“I feel betrayed — not only betrayed, but upset and angry,” Manzar said. “He said we’re going to solve the problem with access and bandwidth. But Facebook is not the Internet.”

Zuckerberg launched his sweeping Internet.org initiative in 2013 as a way to provide 4 billion people in the developing world with Web access, which he sees as a basic human right. Full story...

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The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy'

A woman drives to the outskirts of the city and steps directly on to a train; her electric car then drives itself off to park and recharge. A man has a heart attack in the street; the emergency services send a drone equipped with a defibrillator to arrive crucial minutes before an ambulance can. A family of flying maintenance robots lives atop an apartment block – able to autonomously repair cracks or leaks and clear leaves from the gutters.

Such utopian, urban visions help drive the “smart city” rhetoric that has, for the past decade or so, been promulgated most energetically by big technology, engineering and consulting companies. The movement is predicated on ubiquitous wireless broadband and the embedding of computerised sensors into the urban fabric, so that bike racks and lamp posts, CCTV and traffic lights, as well as geeky home appliances such as internet fridges and remote-controlled heating systems, become part of the so-called “internet of things” (the global market for which is now estimated at $1.7tn). Better living through biochemistry gives way to a dream of better living through data. You can even take an MSc in Smart Cities at University College, London.

Yet there are dystopian critiques, too, of what this smart city vision might mean for the ordinary citizen. The phrase itself has sparked a rhetorical battle between techno-utopianists and postmodern flâneurs: should the city be an optimised panopticon, or a melting pot of cultures and ideas? Full story...

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Malaysia's utterly bonkers corruption scandal, explained...

If your neighbor told you that the Saudi royal family had wired $681 million to his personal bank account and that they expected nothing in return, you'd probably conclude that was not the full story and be left a bit baffled.

This is something like what Malaysians are going through now, after revelations that Saudi royals wired Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak $681 million — with Najib citing the Saudi "donation" as part of his defense in a corruption inquiry.

Sure enough, on Tuesday morning Malaysia's attorney general cleared Najib of any wrongdoing in accepting the funds.

To even begin to follow this saga, you need to see the history of Malaysia's truly strange corruption scandal — which remains very far from resolved. So here's a brief, simple guide to one of the world's wackiest scandals: how it began, what we know, and how it ties into some bigger global issues. Full story...

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Italy claims Google dodged $248 million in taxes...

The Italian finance police believe Google evaded 227 million euros ($247.5 million) in taxes in Italy between 2009 and 2013, investigative sources said on Thursday.

The finance police report was due to be delivered to the Internet giant later in the day and comes amid an increasingly angry debate across Europe over taxation of multinationals who park earnings in low-tax nations.

Asked about the Italian report, a Google spokesperson said: "Google complies with the tax laws in every country where we operate. We are continuing to work with the relevant authorities."

Google's latest figures show it paid 2.2 million euros of tax in Italy in 2014 on revenues of 54.4 million euros generated in the country. Italy's Communications Authority estimates Google's Italian revenues at around 10 times higher. Full story...

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

The privileged world of Thailand's supernatural dolls...

Their name, "luk thep", literally translates as "child angels" and people believe they bring good fortune and they are pampered by their owners as if they were children.

But the privileges lavished upon them have also drawn a backlash and warnings from Thai authorities.

After purchasing a doll, the owner brings it to a monk who conducts a prayer and an anointing ceremony known as "plook sek".

Such prayers are normally used to bless lucky amulets, which are also popular in Thailand, where ancient beliefs in magic are still prevalent.

In the case of "luk thep", it is often seen as a way of animating the doll, where a wandering spirit is invited to inhabit it and give it a soul. Full story...

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