Monthly Archives: November 2011

Stalin’s only daughter – who famously denounced his reign of terror – dies in Wisconsin aged 85


Influence: Peters sits with Lavrentiy Beria, the chief of Soviet security under Stalin

Daily Mail | Nov 29 2011

The only daughter of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin has died in Wisconsin, aged 85.

Svetlana Peters, who famously denounced communism and moved to the United States in the late 1960s, died from colon cancer.

Her defection in 1967 – partly motivated by the poor treatment of her late husband, Brijesh Singh, by Soviet authorities – caused an international furore.

Within months, she published her a memoir about life in Russia, entitled Twenty Letters to a Friend, that became a best-seller.

But Peters, who was known internationally by her previous name, Svetlana Alliluyeva, said her identity involved more than just switching from one side to the other in the Cold War.

Upon her arrival in New York City in 1967, the 41-year-old said: ‘I have come here to seek the self-expression that has been denied me for so long in Russia.’

She said she had come to doubt the communism she was taught growing up and believed there weren’t capitalists or communists, just good and bad human beings.

In the book, she recalled her father, who died in 1953 after ruling the nation for 29 years, as a distant and paranoid man.

Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin denounced her as a ‘morally unstable’ and ‘sick person’.

‘I switched camps from the Marxists to the capitalists,’ she recalled in a 2007 interview. But she said her identity was far more complex than that and never completely understood.

‘People say, “Stalin’s daughter, Stalin’s daughter,” meaning I’m supposed to walk around with a rifle and shoot the Americ

‘Or they say, “No, she came here. She is an American citizen.” That means I’m with a bomb against the others.

‘No, I’m neither one. I’m somewhere in between. That “somewhere in between” they can’t understand.’

The defection came at a high personal cost. She left two children behind in Russia — Josef and Yekaterina — from previous marriages.

Both were upset by her departure, and she was never close to either again.

Peters was Stalin’s only daughter. She had two brothers, Vasili and Jacob.

When Lana was six years old, her mother, Stalin’s second wife, Nadezhda, shot herself after a row over his philandering. Thereafter, Lana was raised by a beloved nanny.

At 17, she fell in love for the first time, with a film-maker and writer 22 years her senior named Aleksei Kapler.

But Stalin did not approve of Kapler, whom he dismissed as a ‘Bohemian artist’ and a Jew, and banished him to Siberia for ten years.

Incensed that her boyfriend had influenced her to apply for a university fine arts course, he also insisted she study history and become ‘an educated Marxist’.

In an interview with the Daily Mail last year, she said of her father: ‘He broke my life. I want to explain to you, he broke my life twice.

‘He put to jail and then to labour camp the man I loved. I saw for the first time that my father could do that.’

She added: ‘He was a very simple man. Very rude. Very cruel. There was nothing in him that was complicated. He loved me and he wanted me to be with him.’

Peters graduated from Moscow University in 1949, worked as a teacher and translator and travelled in Moscow’s literary circles before leaving the Soviet Union.

She was married four times – the last time to William Wesley Peters, an apprentice to the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright. She took the name Lana Peters.

The couple had a daughter, Olga, before divorcing in 1973.

Peters wrote three more books, including Only One Year, an autobiography published in 1969. The book made more than $3 million.

Her father’s legacy appeared to haunt her throughout her life.

She denounced his policies, which included sending millions into labor camps.

‘Over me my father’s shadow hovers, no matter what I do or say,’ she lamented in a 1983 interview with the Chicago Tribune.

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Department Of Homeland Security Wants All Your Personal Information Accessible From One Place

Forbes | Nov 29, 2011

Information sharing (or lack thereof) between intelligence agencies has been a sensitive topic in the U.S. After 9/11, there was a push to create fusion centers so that local, state, and federal agencies could share intelligence, allowing the FBI, for example, to see if the local police have anything in their files on a particular individual. Now the Department of Homeland Security wants to create its own internal fusion center so that its many agencies can aggregate the data they have and make it searchable from a central location. The DHS is calling it a “Federated Information Sharing System” and asked its privacy advisory committee to weigh in on the repercussions at a public meeting in D.C. last month.

The committee, consisting of an unpaid group of people from the world of corporate privacy as well as the civil liberty community, were asked last December to review the plan and provide feedback on which privacy protections need to be put in place when info from DHS components (which include the TSA, the Secret Service, and Immigration Services, to name a few) are consolidated. The committee raised concerns about who would get access to the data given the potentially comprehensive profile this would provide of American citizens.

The committee’s recommendations are available in draft form below. DHS would not provide the original document — a “tasking letter” — that it issued to the committee describing its plans. But DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division did announce this month that it had awarded a contract to Raytheon for a “new system [that] will enhance how agencies manage, investigate, and report on law enforcement and intelligence activities by improving data sharing between multiple law-enforcement agencies,” reported Information Week. Raytheon’s work started on September 27, a week before the privacy committee got back to DHS with its draft privacy policy recommendations (available below). The committee noted that it had been given an “aggressive timeline” by DHS on coming up with its recommendations.

Better data aggregation in order to root out patterns to prevent terror attacks and enhance security is the new hotness for law enforcement (see BusinessWeek’s piece on the start-up that wants to help the CIA sort through data). But there are privacy concerns. One big assumption that the DHS privacy committee made in its reports is that officials will be searching their new awesome databanks using specific personal information (i.e., What has Kashmir Hill been up to this month?) as opposed to general patterns (i.e., Who all took the train between D.C. and New York this week?). The latter, pattern-based searches would make the DHS’s new fusion-center-like system too much like Total Information Awareness, say critics. The ACLU sent DHS a letter [pdf] this month voicing its concerns about the mingling of commercial and government databases and the potential civil liberties violations, giving an example of a person’s laptop being inspected by Customs & Border Control and then having any reports of its contents put into a profile accessible to the rest of DHS.

“Will DHS limit sharing of this information on innocent people or purge it from the system?” asks the ACLU. ” Just because an ordinary American has had an encounter with DHS does not mean that his or her movements, work history, or other data should be open to widespread scrutiny.”

The ACLU urges the DHS not to “rush into” things, but as noted about, at least one contract to lay the foundation for the system is already signed.

Cook County Homeland Security prepares for a brutal mid-west winter

examiner.com | Nov 30, 2011

by Cynthia Hodges

The Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is preparing for brutal conditions this winter as forecaster’s predict the Midwest and Great Lakes region, Chicago in particular is expected to get the most snow and cold in the nation.

Michael Masters, executive director of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is reassuring the city’s residents:

“We take severe weather conditions very seriously, and are putting into place a robust operational plan designed to assist in reducing the potential impact on our townships and municipalities.”

In assessing last February’s ‘Blizzard of 2011,’  the Illinois Policy Institute gave Chicago an “F” for the Lake Shore Drive response, and a “B” for efforts to clear main roads, and a very generous “C” for side streets.

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During the blizzard, the decision to leave Lake Shore Drive open during high winds, drifting snow and white-out conditions resulted in 900 stranded vehicles, including CTA buses stuck for hours after three accidents in 28 minutes. A reporter asked former Mayor Daley who made the decision to which he replied “not me.”

Daley’s Chief of Staff Raymond Orozco later said it was his decision not to close Lake Shore Drive and apologized repeatedly. He said closing the drive earlier would have resulted in disastrous traffic and possible accidents on other streets.

The decision was a costly one, to both the city and Chicago residents lost valuable resources at a critical time, including 130 firefighters deployed, along with 30 firefighter medics on snow mobiles, and 100 Chicago police officers. The third-largest snowfall in the city’s history cost the city of Chicago and Cook County $37.3 million.

In October, an AccuWeather long-range forecast predicted as much snow as last winter if not more in coming months. The Midwest and Great Lakes region will “hands down” experience the worst winter in the nation.

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Former scientology member ‘held against will aboard cruise ship’


Australian Valeska Paris has alleged she spent years imprisoned on the Church of Scientology’s cruise ship, The Freewinds Photo: ABC

A former Church of Scientology member has claimed she was held against her will aboard the Church’s cruise ship, The Freewinds, for 12 years.

Telegraph | Nov 30, 2011

By Jonathan Pearlman in Sydney

Valeska Paris, an Australian resident, said she was forced onto the ship by the Church’s leader, David Miscavige, when she was 17 after her mother tried to dissociate her from the organisation.

Ms Paris, who was born in Switzerland, moved to the UK at age six, where she was placed in the church’s youth wing, the cadet org. At 14, she joined the church’s elite Sea Organisation and signed a contract which bound her for a billion years.

“I was woken up in the morning and I was sent to the ship for ‘two weeks’,” she told ABC TV.

“I did not want to be there. I made it clear I did not want to be there and that was considered bad ethics, meaning it was considered not right.”

Ms Paris claimed she was not allowed to leave the ship without an escort during her first six years aboard and was asked to perform hard labour in the engine room.

Ms Paris’s mother left the church and denounced it on French television after the suicide of Ms Paris’s father, a self-made millionaire.

The Church denied Ms Paris had been mistreated or performed hard labour, saying the Freewinds was “a wonderful place”.

“She certainly wasn’t ‘forced’ to be there,” the Church said in a statement. “Her allegation that she could only leave the ship with an escort is totally false.”

However, Ms Paris’s claims were backed up by a former senior executive on the Freewinds, Ramana Dienes-Browning.

“She made it very clear she did not want to be there,” she claimed. “She had been sent to the ship so as not to be in contact with one of her parents and that is not what she wanted. She was very, very distressed.”

Study: Using wi-fi on a laptop ‘damages sperm’

Surfing the internet on a laptop that is connected with wireless technology can damage sperm counts, a study suggests.

Telegraph | Nov 30, 2011

By Andrew Hough

Researchers discovered a personal computer using wi-fi that is placed near male reproductive organs reduced sperm quality and the chances of men experiencing fatherhood.

Scientists found sperm placed under a laptop that used wireless technology suffered more damage than specimens kept at the same temperature but away from a wi-fi signal.

The bench side tests undertaken by the American and Argentinian team showed sperm were less able to swim and had irreversible changes in the genetic code.

Experts suggested the findings, published in this month’s Fertility and Sterility journal, were caused by the electromagnetic radiation emitted by wireless communication that damages semen.

But the team also cautioned that the results were carried out in an artificial setting and said men should not overly worry just yet. In the study, scientists found a quarter of the sperm placed next to a laptop for just a few hours were killed.

Evidence of DNA damage was also found in the tests undertaken by the team from the Nascentis Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Cordoba, Argentina and and the Eastern Virginia Medical School.

In comparison, sperm that was stored at the same temperature but away from a laptop showed a smaller drop in mobility and a significant reduction in DNA damage.

Meanwhile, semen placed under the computer without the wi-fi connected did not experience significant levels of sperm damage.

“Our data suggest that the use of a laptop computer wirelessly connected to the internet and positioned near the male reproductive organs may decrease human sperm quality,” said Dr Conrado Avendano, who led the study.

“At present we do not know whether this effect is induced by all laptop computers connected by Wi-Fi to the internet or what use conditions heighten this effect.”

The findings differ from previous studies because fears over links between infertility and laptops have focused on heat emitted by the devices.

In the latest study, researchers took sperm specimens from 29 healthy men, aged 26 to 45.

Each donor sample was separated out into two pots and either placed under a laptop using wireless technology or away from the computer.

Scientists then used the laptop to download information from the internet for four hours.

They found that 25 per cent of the sperm under the laptop had stopped moving and nine per cent showed DNA damage.

By comparison, just 14 per cent of samples kept away from the wi-fi stopped moving while just three per cent suffered DNA damage.

Dr Avendano stressed the results did not necessarily mean the same would occur in a real-life setting, adding that men should not unduly worry.

But he recommended more research be undertaken. Nonetheless the findings will fuel concerns raised by a few other research teams.

Some have found that radiation from mobile phones creates feeble sperm in a laboratory setting.

Last year urologists also described how a man’s sitting with a laptop balanced on his knees can increase the temperature of his genital areas to levels that can damage sperm.

Sirhan lawyers: Bullet was switched and he was hypnotized before Robert Kennedy assassination

Associated Press | Nov 28, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Lawyers representing convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan argue in newly filed court documents that a bullet was switched in evidence at his trial and new forensic details show he is innocent of the 1968 killing of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

In the latest of many appeals filed on behalf of Sirhan, the attorneys are seeking to overturn his conviction. They repeated a previous assertion and presented reports from experts who said Sirhan was programmed through hypnosis to fire shots as a diversion for the real killer.

Prosecutors had no comment, said Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the California attorney general’s office, which is handling the appeal.

The lawyers, William F. Pepper and Laurie Dusek, also said sophisticated audio tests recently conducted on recordings from the assassination night show 13 shots from multiple guns were fired — five more than Sirhan could have fired from his small pistol.

Authorities have claimed eight bullets were fired, with three hitting Kennedy and the rest flying wildly around the kitchen and striking five other victims who survived.

Paul Schrade, who was struck by gunfire, refused to comment on the new filing, saying he is working on his own new analysis of the assassination.

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Pepper and Dusek argue that before Sirhan’s trial, someone switched a bullet before it was placed in evidence because the bullet taken from Kennedy’s neck did not match Sirhan’s gun. The lawyers suggest a second gun was involved in the assassination, but they do not know who fired it.

Pepper said the new evidence outlined in a 62-page federal court brief filed in Los Angeles is sufficient to prove Sirhan is innocent under the law.

“They put fabricated evidence into court before the judge and jury” Pepper told The Associated Press. “We are satisfied that for the first time in 43 years of this case we think we have the evidence to set this conviction aside,”

The motion was filed last week in federal court in Los Angeles

Whether it has any chance of success is questionable, said leading appellate lawyer Dennis Fischer of Santa Monica.

“It’s a longshot in the longest way,” he said, “but they certainly are raising intriguing questions.”

He said the passage of time weighs against defense appeals, with courts tending to ask what took so long to raise the issues. However, he said federal courts frequently are willing to take a closer look at cases in which governmental misconduct is alleged, even if it is long after the fact.

“The current thinking by the U.S. Supreme Court is these things need to end,” said Fischer. But he added in case with such historical importance, “No one will ever be satisfied.”

Sirhan, now 67, a Palestinian immigrant, was denied parole after a hearing last March where he denied any memory of shooting Kennedy on June 5, 1968, moments after he claimed victory in the California presidential primary.

Parole officials said he doesn’t understand the enormity of his crime that changed U.S. history.

Pepper and Dusek are the latest attorneys to take up Sirhan’s case after his conviction and argue on his behalf before parole boards and courts.. All of his appeals have been turned down. Pepper, who has taken on other unpopular cases including that of Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray, stepped in after Sirhan’s previous lawyer died.

At trial, Sirhan took the witness stand and said he had killed Kennedy “with 20 years of malice aforethought.” He later recanted the confession. Prosecutors introduced in evidence handwritten diaries in which he wrote: “RFK must die.”

The latest filing by Pepper and Dusek relies heavily on a report by audio analyst Philip Van Praag who did tests on an audio recording made by a news reporter during the shooting. The expert concluded that 13 shots were fired and that none of the sounds on the recording were echoes or other anomalies.

The report also claims that the sounds of gunfire were not isolated to one spot in the room but came from different directions.

The lawyers also contend that Sirhan did not have adequate assistance of counsel at trial, noting that his chief attorney, Grant Cooper, decided Sirhan was guilty at the outset and never pursued available defenses.

The Sirhan defense team settled on a claim of diminished capacity and never denied that Sirhan was the shooter of Kennedy, the brief noted.

“Defense counsel did not pursue the issue of a possible substitution of another bullet,” the brief said.

Acknowledging “the difficulty of retrying a case of this vintage,” the lawyers asked that the sentence be set aside and Sirhan set free.

“Petitioner fully understands that he is likely to be deported to Jordan where he would hope to quietly live out the rest of his life with family and friends, but at long last he would, at least, have received long delayed justice,” the filing states.

As an alternative, they asked that the judge set an evidentiary hearing to reexamine the case.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Robotic prison guards to patrol South Korean prison


The prison guard robot prototype is set to go on trial in March

BBC | Nov 25, 2011

Robot wardens are about to join the ranks of South Korea’s prison service.

A jail in the eastern city of Pohang plans to run a month-long trial with three of the automatons in March.

The machines will monitor inmates for abnormal behaviour. Researchers say they will help reduce the workload for other guards.

South Korea aims to be a world leaders in robotics. Business leaders believe the field has the potential to become a major export industry.

The three 5ft-high (1.5m) robots involved in the prison trial have been developed by the Asian Forum for Corrections, a South Korean group of researchers who specialise in criminality and prison policies.

It said the robots move on four wheels and are equipped with cameras and other sensors that allow them to detect risky behaviour such as violence and suicide.

Prof Lee Baik-Chu, of Kyonggi University, who led the design process, said the robots would alert human guards if they discovered a problem.

“As we’re almost done with creating its key operating system, we are now working on refining its details to make it look more friendly to inmates,” the professor told the Yonhap news agency.

The one-month trial will cost 1bn won (£554,000) and is being sponsored by the South Korean government.

It is the latest in a series of investments made by the state to develop its robotics industry.

The country’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in January that it had spent the equivalent of £415m on research in the sector between 2002 and 2010.

It said the aim was to compete with other countries, such as Japan, which are also exploring the industry’s potential.

In October the ministry said the Korean robot market had recorded 75% growth over the past two years and was now worth about £1bn.
Robots everywhere

Success stories reported by the Korean media include Samsung Techwin’s sale of a robotic surveillance system to Algeria and shipments of the humanoid Hubo robot to six universities in the US.

The South Korean defence company DoDAAM is also developing robotic gun turrets for export which can be programmed to open fire automatically.

Within the country English-speaking robotic teaching assistants are already being deployed in some schools to help children to practise their pronunciation.

The Joongang Daily newspaper reported in August that a company called Showbo had begun mass producing a robot that bowed to shop customers and told them about promotions on offer.

Other firms say they hope to start selling robots to help care for the elderly before the end of the decade, and personal assistant robots further down the line.

The government is also building a Robot Land theme park in the north-west city of Incheon to help highlight the country’s success. Planners say they hope 2.8 million people will visit each year.