Daily Archives: March 14, 2009

Laughing, farting and graffiti: Top 10 tough punishments for minor offenses

Mirror.co.uk | Mar 13, 2009

Following yesterday’s news that Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi had been jailed for three years for throwing his shoes at former US President George W Bush, here are ten other examples of the sometimes overly strong arm of the law.

1. British youth worker Keith Brown was sentenced to four years imprisonment in Dubai last year after customs found cannabis weighing less than a grain of sugar under his shoe.

The 43-year-old, from Middlesex had been on his way from London to Ethiopia when he was stopped and searched at Dubai airport.

At first customs officers found nothing, but then a roll-up cigarette was spotted caught in the tread of his shoe.

Brown was later charged with possession of 0.003g of cannabis.

2. Many tourists visiting Singapore for the first time will often remark at how clean the country is.

This is in no small part due to the countries hyper-strict rules on graffiti and litter – chewing gum is outlawed for example.

The country’s hard-line stance came under the microscope in 1994, when American teenager Michael Peter Fay was sentenced to four whacks of the cane on top of eight months in prison for vandalism and graffiti.

Despite pressure from Bill Clinton, the then President’s intervention only resulted in Fay’s caning being reduced by two strokes.

3. In 2007, teacher Gillian Gibbons was at the centre of a diplomatic storm after allowing her primary school class to name a teddy bear Muhammad while working in Sudan.

Despite claiming it had been an ‘innocent misunderstanding’, she was found guilty of insulting religion.

The Liverpudlian escaped a sentence of 40 lashes after apologising to the court for any offence she had caused, yet was still put behind bars for 15 days.

She was released four days later after receiving a pardoned by Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, following worldwide pressure over the incident.

4. Minnesota single mother of two Jammie Thomas hit the headlines in 2007 after being slapped with a £110,000 fine for file-sharing.

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The music fan was driven to bankruptcy after being ordered to pay six record companies $9,250 for each of the 24 songs she had uploaded, which included tracks by Green Day, Guns ’N’ Roses, and Destiny’s Child.

5. In 2007, a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in a Thai prison for defacing a picture of King Bhumibol.

In an alcohol-fuelled vandalism spree, Oliver Jufer was caught on CCTV spray painting posters of the monarch that had been put up for his birthday.

Thailand remains one of just a few countries in the world that still enforce laws where any criticism of the King or royal family is illegal.

6. In 2006 a Chinese court gave a stiff sentence to the founder of the country’s largest porn site.

Chen Hui, 28, was handed a life sentence for setting up bongo portal Qingseliuyuetian, or ‘Pornographic Summer’, which amassed over 600,000 paying members.

Having relaxed its stance on pornography after the puritanical reign of Chairman Mao, Hui fell foul of a country-wide crackdown in the run up to the Beijing Olympics.

7. In November last year, a Florida student was arrested for farting and continually turning off his classmate’s computer.

The 13-year-old boy was cuffed for “continually disrupting his classroom environment” before being released to his mother.

8. There was little Christmas cheer last December for a busking bagpiper after he was arrested for causing ‘distress’ to Christmas shoppers.

Despite making £50 within an hour from passers-by, Shaun Cartwright was handcuffed and driven to the police station in Bridport, Dorset, and his beloved pipes were seized following a single complaint from a shopper.

After being later released he was told it was not in the public interest to press charges and his pipes were returned.

9. A court in northern Malaysia last summer jailed four Muslim men for taking part in a transvestite beauty pageant.

The men were sentenced to seven days and given a £150 fine after pleading guilty to cross-dressing.

10. In 2004 a Berlin woman was fined for laughing too loud.

The woman, an architect named in court papers as Barbara M, had her house raided by police while hosting a dinner party, and later received a formal complaint from district authorities demanding she pay a €25 fine for “loud laughter between the hours of 18:00 and 22:30”.

Japanese scientists cool on unproven warming theories

“Our nation must pay huge amounts of money to buy carbon discharge rights. This is not reasonable, but meaningless if global cooling will come soon.”

– Shigenori Maruyama professor of geology at the Tokyo Institute of Technology

The Australian | Mar 14, 2009

By Peter Alford

THREE senior Japanese scientists separately engaged in climate-change research have strongly questioned the validity of the man-made global-warming model that underpins the drive by the UN and most developed-nation governments to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“I believe the anthropogenic (man-made) effect for climate change is still only one of the hypotheses to explain the variability of climate,” Kanya Kusano told The Weekend Australian.

It could take 10 to 20 years more research to prove or disprove the theory of anthropogenic climate change, said Dr Kusano, a research group leader with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science’s Earth Simulator project.

“Before anyone noticed, this hypothesis has been substituted for truth,” writes Shunichi Akasofu, founding director of the University of Alaska’s International Arctic Research Centre.

Dr Kusano, Dr Akasofu and Tokyo Institute of Technology geology professor Shigenori Maruyama are highly critical of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s acceptance that hazardous global warming results mainly from man-made gas emissions.

On the scientific evidence so far, according to Dr Kusano, the IPCC assertion that atmospheric temperatures are likely to increase continuously and steadily “should be perceived as an unprovable hypothesis”.

Dr Maruyama said yesterday there was widespread scepticism among his colleagues about the IPCC’s fourth and latest assessment report that most of the observed global temperature increase since the mid-20th century “is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”.

When this question was raised at a Japan Geoscience Union symposium last year, he said, “the result showed 90 per cent of the participants do not believe the IPCC report”.

Dr Maruyama studies the geological evidence of prehistoric climate change, and he thinks the large influences on global climate over time may be global cosmic rays and solar activity.

Like Dr Akasofu, Dr Maruyama believes the earth has moved into a cooling period, and while Japan is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on carbon credits to hedge against global warming, the country’s greatest looming problem is energy shortage, particularly oil.

“Our nation must pay huge amounts of money to buy carbon discharge rights,” he said. “This is not reasonable, but meaningless if global cooling will come soon — scientists will lose trust.”

Dr Maruyama said he was uncomfortable, given the scientific uncertainty of man-made climate-change theory, that Japan had taken a leading position in the crusade for global greenhouse emission targets.

The scientists and two others — Seita Emori, of the National Institute of Environmental Studies, and Kiminori Ito, of Yokahama National University — contributed to a paper titled “The scientific truth of global warming” that was published in January by the Japan Society of Energy and Resources.

Professor Emori is a firm supporter of man-made climate-change theory and Dr Ito is generally for it, although with reservations about the scientific rigour of the IPCC approach.

The doubters, particularly Dr Kusano and Dr Akasofu, are being widely cited by greenhouse-sceptic websites, after their sections of the paper were translated by The Register, a London-based online publisher.

However, the paper’s co-ordinator said the JSER’s position on anthropogenic global warming was neutral.

“This paper represents the views of the individuals and not of the society,” said Hideo Yoshida, of Kyoto University. “The purpose is to stimulate debate among scholars and readers, and let them form their own judgment.”

The Japan Society of Energy and Resources is an academic group that promotes co-operation between industry, academic research and government.

Dr Maruyama said many scientists were doubtful about man-made climate-change theory, but did not want to risk their funding from the government or bad publicity from the mass media, which he said was leading society in the wrong direction.

Updating the Militarization and Annexation of North America

No_NAU_sticker

Baltimore Chronicle | Mar 13, 2009

by Stephen Lendman

The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) is a military-backed corporate coup d’etat against the sovereignty of three nations, their populations and legislative bodies. The public is largely unaware of what is happening.

The title refers to the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP), also known as the North American Union – formerly launched at a March 23, 2005 Waco, Texas meeting attended by George Bush, Mexico’s President Vincente Fox, and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. It’s for a tri-national agreement, below the radar, for greater economic, political, and security integration with secret business and government working groups devising binding policies with no public knowledge or legislative debate.

In short, it’s a military-backed corporate coup d’etat against the sovereignty of three nations, their populations and legislative bodies. It’s a dagger through the heart of democratic freedom in all three, yet the public is largely unaware of what’s happening.

Last April, New Orleans hosted the last SPP summit. Ever since, progress may have stalled given the gravity of the global economic crisis and top priority need to address it. Nonetheless, what’s known to date is updated below plus some related information.

Last September, the Army Times reported that the 3rd Infantry’s 1st Brigade Combat Team in Iraq would be re-deployed at home (October 1) as “an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.”

“This marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.”

Then on December 1, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon will deploy 20,000 troops nationwide by 2011 “to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear attack or other domestic catastrophe.” Three “rapid-reaction” combat units are planned. Two or more others may follow. They’ll be supplemented by 80 smaller National Guard units trained to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, high-yield explosive, and other domestic “terror” attacks or disturbances. In other words, homeland militarization and occupation are planned using troops trained to kill.

The pretext is national security. In fact, they’ll be on-call against another major terrorist attack, real or contrived, as well as civil unrest given the gravity of the economic crisis, its affect on millions, and likelihood that sooner or later they’ll react. Armed combat troops will supplement militarized local police in case security crackdowns are ordered or martial law declared.

“Catastrophic Emergency” procedures are in place to react to situations, “natural or manmade,” according to DHS/FEMA’s March 2008 “Preparedness for the Next Catastrophic Disaster” policy paper. Should conditions warrant, initiatives to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law are in place, but militarizing America for business is also at issue.

Last October 1, the Canadian Action Party posted a “COUP IN USA ALERT” after the Bush administration announced the homeland deployment of troops with “$100 billion (bailout) dollars” to do it.
What’s Likely in Prospect

SPP efforts paused during the Bush to Obama transition, but “deep integration” plans remain. On January 19, Ottawa’s Carleton University’s Centre for Trade Policy and Law outlined an agenda for America and Canada going forward. It called for “early and sustained cooperation” at a time of continuing global crisis, to include security, defense, trade and competitiveness.

It said the “most pressing issue is the need to re-think the architecture for managing North America’s common economic space (including) trade liberalization.” It used language like “re-imagining (and) modernizing the border” that reads like erasing it and doing the same with Mexico. In a similar vein, it recommends “integrating national regulatory regimes into one that applies on both sides of the border.” It called the arrival of a new Washington administration “a golden opportunity” to forge a “mutually beneficial agenda (that) will define global and North American governance for years to come.”

It mentioned the specter of protectionism and need to avoid it given the current economic climate. It advocates a “more ambitious Canada-US Partnership” beyond NAFTA,” in co-partnership with Mexico.

Titled “North America Next,” a recent Arizona State University North American Center for Transborder Studies report called for “sustainable and security competitiveness” and deeper US-Canada-Mexico integration through “sustainable security and effective trade and transportation (to) make (the three nation) North America(n partnership) safer, more economically viable, and more prosperous.”

Both Carleton and Arizona State University project participants want SPP initiatives invigorated under a new Washington administration, especially in a climate of global economic crisis when addressing it takes precedence.
Other Issues in Play

“The Canadian’s” Mike Finch “North American Union (NAU) watch” reports that US and Canadian organizations want to end free flow Internet information. He cites an “net-neutrality activist group” discovery of “plans for the demise of the free Internet by 2010 in Canada,” and by 2012 globally.

Canada’s two largest ISPs, Bell Canada and TELUS, are behind a scheme to limit browsing, block out sites, and charge fees on most others as part of a 2012 “planned full (NAU) launching.” Web host I Power’s Reese Leysen called it “beyond censorship: it is killing the biggest (ever) ‘ecosystem’ of free expression and freedom of speech.” He cited big company inside sources providing information on “exclusivity deals between ISPs and big content providers (like TV studios and video game publishers) “to decide which sites will be in the standard package offered customers, leaving the rest of the Internet unreachable except for fees.”

Leysen called his source “100% reliable” and cited similar information from a Dylan Pattyn Time magazine article, based on Bell Canada and TELUS sources. Plans are for “only the top 100 – 200 sites making the cut in the initial subscription package,” likely to include major news outlets at the expense of smaller, alternative ones. “The Internet would become a playground for billion-dollar content providers,” like cable TV providers, unless efforts are made to stop it.

Leysen thinks US and global ISPs have similar plans that include free speech restrictions and privacy invasions. The stakes are high if he’s right. Yet the profit potential is huge and friendly governments may oblige. Also involved are “deceptive marketing and fear tactics” (like citing child pornography threats) to gain public approval for subscription services masquerading as online safety. The time to stop it is now.

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40 year snowfall record approached in Jackson Tennessee


40-year record snowfall

Jackson Sun | Mar 2, 2009

By NED B. HUNTER

Saturday’s snow that still smothered Jackson on Sunday approached a 40-year record and caused tens of thousands of power outages and turmoil on Interstate 40 and other roads.

Linemen for Jackson Energy Authority and Southwest Tenn Electric Membership Corp. were expected to remain busy through this morning as they chase sporadic outages that had caused nearly 14,000 people to lose power.

“We have had a series of spotted outages,” said Steve Bowers of JEA. “It has not been like a tornado where everything is out at once.”

Both the local energy authority and Southwest had rolling outages that affected between 6,000 and 7,000 people each beginning around 10 p.m. Saturday. Some of the outages were caused by snow-laden tree limbs falling and tearing down power lines.

Another group of outages, however, was caused by limbs sagging around the lines, tripping breakers and shutting down transformers, said Raymond Towater, lineman for Southwest.

The sagging limbs are why outages are expected to continue into early today.

Southwest has about 50,000 electric customers.

“When the snow melts, the limbs will come back up and could knock power out again,” said Towater, working at the corner of Cotton Grove and Potts Chapel roads.

About 3,000 Southwest customers remained without power at about 7 p.m. Sunday, most of them in individual houses spread throughout Madison County, said spokesman Trent Scott.

On Sunday morning there were an estimated 7,000 Southwest customers without power, mostly in Madison and Chester counties.

Southwest workers hoped to have power restored to most of their Chester County customers, Scott said.

The utility planned to send crews home at 11 p.m. Sunday, almost 24 hours after most of them started working, and resume work at 6 a.m. today.

Chinese police pretend to be journalists to catch out protestors

Telegraph | Mar 12, 2009

BY Malcolm Moore

With the great boondoggle of the Olympics now fading into a distant memory, it is becoming clear that not much has changed in China.

Or if things have changed, it’s because the Communist Party is more adept at propaganda and control.

Last year, party chiefs watched as Tibet spiralled into chaos during the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile. This year, mobile phone networks have been cut and internet servers taken down so that activists cannot coordinate their protests.

He Weifang, one of the most prominent signatories of Charter 08, a document calling for democracy in China, has lost his job teaching law at Peking University.

But he hasn’t been vanished – as he may have been in the past – he’s been allowed to keep teaching, but sent to Xinjiang, the desolate bit of China which borders Afghanistan and which holds the immense Taklamakan desert.

The latest bit of bad news is currently up on the Chinese part of the Radio Free Asia website. They were told last week that someone in Beijing pretended to be a RFA reporter in order to convene a meeting of petitioners against the government; people who have had their houses seized or been unable to pay for healthcare for their family and so on.

During the Olympics, the petitioners who dared to register for the public protest zones got carted away and sure enough the ones who showed up at this fake meeting were instantly arrested by security goons, said RFA’s editor, Shao Delian. Indeed, RFA has no Beijing-based reporter and its website is blocked inside China.

Barack Obama fuels gun buying boom with pledge to tighten laws

gun_shop

Firearms sales have soared across America after US President Barack Obama pledged to tighten gun control laws  Photo: AP

A pledge by US President Barack Obama to tighten gun control laws has led to firearms sales soaring across America.

Telegraph | Mar 14, 2009

By Jacqui Goddard in Miami

Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand, and many gun shops running low on stock as the US public buys weapons in anticipation of tighter controls.

On the campaign trail last year Mr Obama proposed restoring a Clinton-era ban on several types of military-style semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, as well as background checks for buyers at gun shows, and other “common-sense measures”.

His pledge has proved a potent catalyst, with manufacturers recording soaring profits since his election.

“Since November, sales of firearms – in particular handguns and semi-automatic hunting and target rifles – are fast outpacing inventory,” said Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the US firearms and ammunition industry.

“Americans are clearly concerned about their ability to be able to purchase these products in an uncertain future,” he added.

Smith and Wesson last week posted third-quarter profits of $2.4 million (£1.7 million), reversing a loss of $1.8 million over the same period the previous year, as its pistol sales leapt 46 per cent and tactical rifle sales more than tripled. Another manufacturer, Sturm Ruger & Co. reported an 81 per cent increase in takings.

Demand for certain ammunition is also outstripping supply as enthusiasts build up stockpiles ahead of threatened tax increases on bullets.

Industry watchers say the rush is also down to people taking up arms against the recession, anxious to defend themselves against rising crime driven by the economic gloom.

Personal background checks – which, under federal law, are required of people purchasing rifles and handguns – jumped 42 per cent at gun stores to a record 1.5 million in November after Mr Obama was elected. Since then, they have risen by an average of 25 per cent each month.

In Florida, state authorities have hired an extra 61 people just to help process the waiting list for gun permits.

Gun control advocates are pinning their hopes on the president as they lobby for tougher legislation that they say could help prevent massacres such as that carried out by Michael McLendon in Alabama last week, in which ten people died.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, said: “Our nation must take action to make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons.”

Video surveillance turns the corner to track people everywhere they go

Better cameras, smarter software and faster networks enhance systems

Sophisticated algorithms move from one camera to the next to ensure continuous views.

GCN | Mar 9, 2009

By David Essex

swivel_cameraVideo surveillance has been around since law enforcement agencies started using closed-circuit TV cameras in the early 1960s. Today, the basic principle might be the same, but what goes on behind the camera is a far cry from a security guard watching a monitor. Digital and Internet-based technologies have made it easier and cheaper to set up and maintain surveillance systems. These days, a camera could be watching you on just about any busy street corner.

Video surveillance has been around since law enforcement agencies started using closed-circuit TV cameras in the early 1960s. Today, the basic principle might be the same, but what goes on behind the camera is a far cry from a security guard watching a monitor. Digital and Internet-based technologies have made it easier and cheaper to set up and maintain surveillance systems. These days, a camera could be watching you on just about any busy street corner.

Many agencies are already using basic systems that let human operators monitor live scenes remotely and store videos for later review. And recent advances in software and hardware promise to further reduce costs and expand coverage while delivering analytical capabilities that can greatly enhance security.

The newest frontier in video surveillance is content analysis software.

Instead of having human operators sit in front of monitors 24 hours a day and try to stay alert, software can now send an alert when a specified activity takes place. For example, a person crossing the U.S./Mexico border or jumping over the fence at a port facility could trigger such an alert.

Some vendors, such as VideoIQ and ObjectVideo, specialize in that technology.

A major component of advanced analytics involves not only recognizing objects but also tracking their movements. TerraSight software from Pyramid Vision, a Sarnoff company that specializes in aerial and tower-mounted surveillance for defense and homeland security, can “fingerprint” an object to continually recognize it as it moves through scenes. TerraSight also filters irrelevant content, such as video artifacts — Moire patterns or pixellation, for example — and lighting changes.

“When you’re working with surveillance, you want to know where something is and you want to know right away,” said John Bradburn, Sarnoff’s senior business development manager. Each video pixel in TerraSight can have a geospatial coordinate associated with it, and an extensive metadata catalog helps analysts track events.

Sophisticated algorithms move from one camera to the next to ensure continuous views.

Another new technology is adaptive learning surveillance software. BRS Labs developed what it calls a cognitive video analytics system that examines video for behavior patterns. The company’s AISight software tracks objects frame by frame to detect variations from established patterns. When it sees such a variation, it sends an alert.

“Let’s say there is a camera monitoring a parking lot, for example. [AISight] is going to learn that cars tend to park in particular discreet locations,” said Eric Eaton, BRS Labs’ chief technology officer. “It’s going to learn that people tend to go from a car to a particular entrance or exit point on the scene. And it’s going to learn that those patterns of behavior are normal. Then let’s say that somebody were to move around from one car to the next car rather than just going to one particular car. The system is going to alert on that behavior because it doesn’t match the pattern of behavior that it has learned.”

Play, record, rewind

Of course, the capabilities of new software depend to a significant degree on the capabilities of the hardware on which it runs. Most video surveillance setups involve an array of analog and digital cameras and the hardware to transmit, store, play and analyze video.

Storage is a subdiscipline all its own. In the world of analog, closed-circuit TV systems from vendors such as American Dynamics, Bosch Security Systems, GE Security, Honeywell and Pelco, the key recording and storage technology is the digital video recorder (DVR).

Encoder devices bridge the analog/digital gap, which is important because analog equipment can be too expensive for many organizations to replace all at once. However, even though their images can be converted to digital format, analog cameras lack many of the features of digital cameras.

“It’s going to be a great image, but you’re limited in what you can do digitally,” said Jon Hughes, video product marketing manager at GE Security. “You’re typically not going to be able to, after the fact, zoom in for detail.”

Furthermore, the demands on computing power are one reason why high-end analytical tools are difficult to employ on a broad scale, said Fredrik Nilsson, general manager of the North American division of Axis Communications, a vendor of network video equipment. Although he has a customer that runs analytics for eight cameras on a single server, most machines can’t handle that many, Nilsson said.

Analytical software’s artificial intelligence always requires fine-tuning, although that situation has improved as companies make smarter cameras. “The fact that more and more processing is happening in the camera means that servers can handle more and more cameras at a time,” Nilsson said.

Digital cameras that use IP don’t need — but are often compatible with — stand-alone DVRs and can generally operate with a run-of-the-mill information technology infrastructure, such as storage-area network, network-attached storage and Ethernet Category 5 cable with RJ-45 connectors. In contrast, analog CCTV uses the National Television System Committee (NTSC) broadcast standard via coaxial cable.

Nilsson said a typical Dell server with Axis equipment can store 30 days of video from about 100 cameras; anything beyond that requires dedicated storage.

Digital over IP can reduce costs by consolidating most functions in the server or the camera, which makes the system more scalable. Nilsson said the break-even point is about 40 cameras, even though digital units cost 50 percent to 70 percent more than analog ones. However, IP-based systems can also push the specialized requirements of video management and surveillance to IT departments that probably have little familiarity with them.

But digital video has another characteristic that makes it better for surveillance, Nilsson said. Analog’s NTSC standard employs interlacing that draws the video in alternating lines, while digital cameras employ progressive scans — the top-to-bottom, linear painting of an image familiar to anyone who has watched a DVD movie. When frames are frozen in analog video, artifacts can distort the image. “If you ever want to freeze the frame and watch one frame of the video, you’re going to get a little bit of tearing and reduce your ability to identify the person,” Nilsson said.

It starts with the eye

Any surveillance system starts with the cameras, which must have adequate resolution for human operators or analytical software to pick out vital information, such as license plate numbers. They must also be able to capture the entire scene you want to monitor, either by moving around or by having a stationary wide-angle — and typically high-resolution — view.

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