Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Ripper - Re-visited....New theory

On this day 123 years ago, Jack the Ripper claimed his first victim. But who was this serial killer? This new e-fit finally puts a face to Carl Feigenbaum, a key suspect from Germany.

"I have for years suffered from a singular disease which induces an all-absorbing passion, this passion manifests itself in a desire to kill and mutilate every woman who falls in my way, I am unable to control myself”. What Feigenbaum allegedly told his lawyer

Jack the Ripper is the world's most famous cold case - the identity of the man who brutally murdered five women in London's East End in autumn 1888 remains a mystery.  More than 200 suspects have been named. But to Ripper expert Trevor Marriott, a former murder squad detective, German merchant Carl Feigenbaum is the top suspect.  Convicted of murdering his landlady in Manhattan, Feigenbaum died in the electric chair in New York's Sing Sing prison in 1894. His lawyer suspected him of the Ripper murders too.

No photos of Feigenbaum exist. So Marriott has produced this new e-fit for BBC One's National Treasures Live, created from the description on the admittance form when he was in prison on remand in New York.
Why does Marriott think Feigenbaum is Jack the Ripper? Evidence, in the form of police documents and hundreds of letters to the authorities and newspapers, give us some clues.

Feigenbaum's prison admittance form:
Age 54. Complexion med[ium]. Eyes grey. Hair dark brown. Stature 5ft 4 1/2. Weight 126 [pounds, 57kg]. Medium sized head, hat 6 7/8 or 7. Shoes 8.
Hair grows thin on top of head. Small slim neck. Eyes small and deep-set. Eyebrows curved. Forehead high and heavily arched. Nose large, red and has raw pimples. Teeth poor + nearly all gone on left sides.
Anchor in india ink on right hand at base of thumb and first finger. Round scar or birthmark on right leg below left knee.

The assumption has long been that Jack must have had anatomical knowledge because of the skill with which his victims' organs were removed. But it's possible these were cut out in the mortuary, rather than by Jack at the scene. The 1832 Anatomy Act made it legal for medical personnel to remove organs for training purposes.  This theory is supported by documents on the fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes. The inquest report shows only 14 minutes elapsed from the time the police did their last sweep of the square in which she was killed and her body being discovered.

Was this really enough time for someone to have killed Eddowes, removed her uterus with surgical precision, and all in near complete blackness? Regardless of one's medical knowledge, this seems a stretch. So Marriott believes Jack wasn't necessarily a surgeon after all. He began to investigate other groups who might have been in the area. St Katharine and the London Docks are a short walk from Whitechapel, a place merchant seamen would have flocked to as it was an infamous red light district. Such close proximity would have made it easy for the killer to steal back to his ship unnoticed.
Five women were brutally killed in the East End of London in autumn 1888:
Mary Ann Nicholls, 31 August,
Annie Chapman, 8 September
Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, 30 September
Mary Jane Kelly, 9 November

The gaps between the murders also suggest the killer may have been a traveller.  This theory fits with other facts, too. Although some suggest the killer was a resident of Whitechapel, wouldn't locals have given him up to the police? Especially after a reward was offered. After some digging, Marriott came across records which showed the Nord Deutsche Line, a German merchant vessel group, had a ship called the Reiher docked at the time of the murders.  When Marriott investigated the seamen aboard this ship, he came across the convicted murderer Feigenbaum.

Having watched his client die in the electric chair, Feigenbaum's lawyer William Lawton told the press he believed him to be responsible for the Ripper murders in London. Feigenbaum had confessed, he said, to suffering from a disease which periodically drove him to murder and mutilate women. What was this disease which made him undertake such brutal acts? Today, a psychiatrist is likely to describe it as a psychotic episode. Fortunately, few people with psychotic tendencies go on to become serial killers, but those who do gain an infamy matched by no other crime.

The Jack the Ripper murders provoked a nationwide panic whipped up by press sensationalism. Violence, especially violence with a sexual frisson, sold newspapers.  But violent crime never figured significantly in the statistics or in the courts. By the late 19th Century, developments in psychiatry and the popularity of social Darwinism led to "the criminal classes" being identified as individuals suffering from some form of behavioural abnormality, either inherited or nurtured by dissolute and feckless parents. This informed the way they were treated by the criminal justice system.

The English police took the prevention of crime as their watchword. The assumption was that the unskilled, working class constable, patrolling his beat at a regulation two and a half miles an hour, would deter offenders.

At the time, everyone believed all five women had been killed by the same man.  But having reviewed the evidence, Elizabeth Stride may have died at the hands of another killer, as everything about her murder is different to the others.
"Firstly the time the murder took place, and the knife used to cut her throat was much smaller than all of the other victims, hence the knife wound to her throat was much smaller and she had no other mutilations," says Marriott.  "The location was different to all of the others. The murder was right by the side of a workers' club which was packed with men at the time."

And now a serious question mark hangs over the death of Mary Kelly too. "Fresh material has come to light which may suggest she was not Mary Kelly but someone else," says Marriott. "If that is the case, there is a motive and likely suspects for her murder."

We have shed new light on this old case. But it is certainly not solved, and this dark tale has many more secrets to give up before we know, for sure, the name of the man we call Jack the Ripper.

New Body 'Liquefaction' Unit Unveiled in Florida Funeral Home... Sheesh!...And There's More

A Glasgow-based company has installed its first commercial "alkaline hydrolysis" unit at a Florida funeral home. The unit by Resomation Ltd is billed as a green alternative to cremation and works by dissolving the body in heated alkaline water. The facility has been installed at the Anderson-McQueen funeral home in St Petersburg, and will be used for the first time in the coming weeks. It is hoped other units will follow in the US, Canada and Europe.

The makers claim the process produces a third less greenhouse gas than cremation, uses a seventh of the energy, and allows for the complete separation of dental amalgam for safe disposal.  Mercury from amalgam vaporised in crematoria is blamed for up to 16% of UK airborne mercury emissions, and many UK crematoria are currently fitting mercury filtration systems to meet reduced emission targets. "Resomation was developed in response to the public's increasing environmental concerns," company founder Sandy Sullivan told BBC News. "It gives them that working third choice, which allows them to express those concerns in a very positive and I think personal way."

The Resomator can dissolve the body tissue in under three hours, say its makers The installation was only made possible after the state legislature in Florida approved the use of the technology, one of seven US states in which the process has now been legalized.  The system works by submerging the body in a solution of water and potassium hydroxide which is pressurised to 10 atmospheres and heated to 180C for between two-and-a-half and three hours.

Body tissue is dissolved and the liquid poured into the municipal water system.( What?) Mr Sullivan, a biochemist by training, says tests have proven the effluent is sterile and contains no DNA, and poses no environmental risk.
The bones are then removed from the unit and processed in a "cremulator", the same machine that is used to crush bone fragments following cremation into ash. Metals including mercury and artificial joints and implants are safely recovered.

The machine is patented in Europe with patents pending in other countries. Alkaline hydrolysis has been used in the past to dispose of medical cadavers and farm animals.  Last year, Aquamation Industries of Australia disposed of several bodies in Queensland using a rival alkaline hydrolysis machine. The same design was also used in Ohio earlier this year to dispose of 19 bodies until a state court shut it down, ruling that the process was not compliant with state law.

 Mr Sullivan, whose company is now majority owned by Co-operative Funeralcare, claims his machine will provide a more efficient and quicker process. He also believes the equipment can rival cremation for cost, particularly given the expense of fitting mercury abatement systems.
He is now pressing for legislative changes in the UK to make alkaline hydrolysis a reality in Britain. "The installations in the US will assist in that process because many of the leaders in the funeral industry are coming to see this unit functioning in the next couple of months once it's running," said Mr Sullivan. "Once they see the unit running, see the process and how dignified, respectful, quiet and quick it is, they will help to push through legislative change in the UK."
 Corpses on tap?? I'm sorry, I will not be drinking that tap water or bathing in it. I don't care how pure you make it. It just goes completely against my programming. I am aware that I am being unreasonable......but I don't care.

Freeze drying?...Geez Louise!
Another "green" alternative to cremation is in the pipeline. Susanne Wiigh-Masak, a Swedish biologist, has for a decade proposed a technology she calls Promession. The process involves a fully automated and patented machine. Coffins are fed in one end, and the body removed from the coffin within the unit and then treated with liquid nitrogen.  The body is then vibrated until the body fragments, after which the remains are dried and refined further, and then passed through filters to remove metals, including dental amalgam. The remains are then poured into a square biodegradable coffin, again automatically, for shallow burial.

Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak explains how "promession" works, and how the idea evolved
For Ms Wiigh-Masak, it is all about preparing the body for this shallow burial, a process which says is akin to composting. It was in her garden on the island of Lyr on Sweden's west coast, that the idea came to her.
"It only takes two to three weeks before the kitchen and garden waste is soil so this is what inspired me to really see if not only the kitchen and garden waste but also everything organic, including us, could be treated this way to really become soil," she told BBC News.

Ms Wiigh-Masak is confident commercial operations will begin soon, after the Swedish government promised to introduce new legislation that would allow individuals to use a "burial tax" paid by all Swedes not just for cremation and burial, but also for Promession. Designs are complete, manufacturers appointed, and four potential sites in Sweden have been earmarked for facilities.  She says 60 countries around the world have expressed an interest in the technology.
Not to rain on your freeze dried funeral Ms. Wiigh-Masak but I would be reluctant to grow my tomatoes in that soil. Just me, I guess.

Four Day Ultimatum for Gadaffi Loyalists in Sirte

Libya's interim leaders have given pro-Gaddafi forces until Saturday to surrender or face military force. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who leads the National Transitional Council (NTC), said the ultimatum applied to loyalists of Col Muammar Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte and in other towns.

The announcement came after Col Gaddafi's wife and three of his adult children fled to neighbouring Algeria. Algeria has defended the move, which the NTC called an "act of aggression". Col Gaddafi's own whereabouts are unknown - rumours have variously placed him in Sirte, in regime-controlled Bani Walid south-east of Tripoli, and in the capital itself.

Speaking at a news conference in Benghazi, Mr Jalil said that if there was no "peaceful indication" by Saturday that Gaddafi-loyalists intended to surrender, "we will decide this manner militarily". "We do not wish to do so but we cannot wait longer," he said. The NTC's military chief, Col Ahmed Omar Bani, said: "Zero hour is quickly approaching... So far we have been given no indication of a peaceful surrender."
Mr Jalil said he had spoken to Nato officials and that the NTC had decided no foreign troops were needed in Libya to maintain security. But Mr Jalil warned that Col Gaddafi was "not finished yet". "The danger that is threatening the revolution and the Libyan people still exists. Gaddafi has support and partisans" inside and outside Libya, he said. Another military commander on the NTC, Col Hisham Buhagiar, told Reuters news agency that 50,000 people were now thought to have been killed since the start of the uprising six months ago.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the deadline, saying: "I think it's the right thing to do, to say to the forces loyal to the remnants of the Gaddafi regime: here is the opportunity to lay down your arms, to consider your situation." Mr Hague also said the UN Sanctions Committee had agreed to its request to unfreeze 1.86bn ($1.55bn; £950m) in Libyan dinar bank notes held in the UK. He said the money would "help address urgent humanitarian needs".

The anti-Gaddafi forces are hoping it will not come to an all out battle.  If they want to build a new Libya, then the former pro-Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi people are going to have to find a way to live together.
The infrastructure has not been that badly damaged  in Tripoli. Water is quite a serious problem but they do have electricity and people are getting things back on their feet. But there is an utter vacuum at the top in terms of power. Big decisions have to be made because it won't be easy reconciling all the forces in the country. Such a political leadership has not yet emerged and that is a major and urgent challenge.

Irene's Path of Destruction

The pictures speak for themselves

In the Wake of Irene..... Fema Aid

New Jersey and Vermont are still grappling with record flooding, two days after Irene passed overhead Rescue efforts are intensifying in flood-hit parts of the north-eastern US, as the death toll continues to rise two days after a fierce storm. Tropical Storm Irene killed 40 people in the US and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

In Vermont on Tuesday, soldiers were airlifting supplies to towns isolated by washed-away roads. President Obama pledged stricken areas would have "the support they need as people recover".
"A lot of our fellow citizens are still reeling from Hurricane Irene and its aftermath," he told military veterans in Minneapolis.  "Folks are surveying the damage and some are dealing with tremendous flooding. As a government, we're going to make sure that states and communities have the support they need so that folks can recover."

Mr Obama's remarks came a day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) warned of shortfalls in a disaster relief fund. The agency's director, Craig Fugate, is due to visit Vermont later, after warning that some projects to rebuild areas of the Midwest struck by tornados earlier in the year could be postponed. Senior administration officials were to travel to other stricken states to survey recovery efforts.
At the White House on Monday, Mr Fugate warned that Fema funds were to be directed towards "immediate needs".

The mountain town of Keene, New York, was effectively isolated by damaged roads "We are not taking any money away from survivors," Mr Fugate said, denying that the agency was diverting funds from previous disaster survivors to fund the Irene recovery. In Vermont, a small, mostly rural and mountainous state, 13 small towns and villages remained isolated on Tuesday after roads and bridges were washed away.
Vermont National Guard troops were airlifting and trucking food, water and other emergency supplies. More than 200 roads across the state were impassable, and authorities warned Vermonters to stay clear of damaged areas. "We've got a long slog ahead," Governor Peter Shumlin told MSNBC television. "Irene really whacked us hard." The state is reeling from the worst floods since 1927, and officials warned some rivers and creeks there had yet to crest.

Driving rains and flood tides damaged homes and cut power to more than three million people in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York alone. Celena Sylvestri, 20, drowned when her car filled with water on a flooded New Jersey road. She had called her boyfriend and 911 for help. A New York man was electrocuted when he tried to rescue a child on a street with downed power lines. Two men in Florida drowned as they tried to swim or surf rough waves. Seven people were crushed by falling trees in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Meanwhile, nearly 100 people remained stranded in mountain towns in New York State due to washed out roads and bridges. The storm dumped 13in of rain on the state. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said dozens of bridges and roadways would need to be repaired and that some of the state's rivers had yet to crest from flooding. "You're going see more damage before it starts to get better," he told reporters on Monday.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Brad Saves Woman on Set of World War Z

If there's one man you'd want alongside you during a zombie apocalypse it's clearly Brad Pitt, given that the actor managed to save a women from being trampled on the set of World War Z.  The Scottish Sun newspaper said Pitt and a large group of extras were running through Glasgow's George Square to escape oncoming zombies when the woman fell.  To stop her being trampled Pitt rushed over and carried her out of danger.

"It was total chaos as 700 extras were trying to get down the street. They were banging into moving cars, cameras and military who were carrying heavy machine guns," someone on set told The Scottish Sun.
"Brad didn't have time to speak to her as it was mid-shoot. But she said afterwards how grateful she was, despite having a badly-grazed knee." The newspaper reported that Pitt's quick thinking stopped a serious injury from happening on set.

There has been a rash of injuries on the chaotic set, but thanks to Pitt's bravery and quick reaction time, a tragedy was avoided. And the show kept on going. Will we see that footage in the final cut of World War Z? Or maybe Pitt's heroics will make a DVD extra. Either way, we'll have to wait until late 2012/early 2013 to find out.

The film is an adaptation of Max Brooks' novel, with adjustment made for timing and flow; the book itself is a telling of a number of survivors' experience, while the film puts the action right during that zombie apocalypse. Mireille Enos, Emmy-nominated star of "The Killing," plays Pitt's wife in the film.

Here's the synopsis below:
The story revolves around United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt), who traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Am Nanook

I am Nanook.
 I was named by my Inuit Eskimo brothers. My name means 'Master of the Bears'. It is an empty title because I cannot save my brothers and sisters from hunger and illness; nor can I stop our cubs from dying. We cannot go further north as the earth warms up; we are already at the top of the world. What I can do is to tell you all about us and hope you can find it in your hearts to help.
 The earth is in a sad, sad state and although you may not realize it yet, global warming is causing our climate to change and this is already affecting the quality of your life. In the future, I and my tribe will be gone but you will still be here.You will suffer great hunger, hardship, drought, expanding oceans eating away your lands and crowding your people into smaller areas. The earth will become angry and the weather and the elements will become more harsh and dangerous. We have seen evidence of this already. The heat from the sun will become more intense and harmful. You will not be able to escape the oven that this planet will become. You may be driven underground, to burrow into the earth  to find relief. Your children and grandchildren will be most unhappy at the impossibe and irreparable situation they find themselves in and you will know that you have helped to make it so. 

What can you do? Do not be sad for us, act. There are steps ordinary people can take. They include reducing electricity use, or choosing clean energy sources from your utility, and reducing gasoline and oil use. You can also donate to or join conservation and research organizations like Polar Bears International or the Center for Biological Diversity. Finally, you can apply pressure to politicians and government agencies to enact legislation to protect polar bears, address climate change, and drive development of new technologies.

Soon, I will no longer be here. It is too late to save me and my family. Do not grieve for me but make my death stand for something. Change the earth back to the way it used to be, the way it should be. Slow global warming and make sure some of my species survive in the wild and above all, save yourselves and assure a happy future for your descendants. Please remember me... your friend Nanook.

All About Polar Bears:
Polar bears (Ursus maritimus, which means “sea bear”) are well adapted to cold climates. They have a thick layer of water repellant fur and blubber for insulation, and skid-resistant, snowshoe style paws. These carnivores are intelligent and huge - males can weigh up to 1760 pounds. As a result, they only have one real enemy - and it is us.
Prior to passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, unrestricted hunting of as many as 1,250 polar bears a year was significantly impacting populations. Because they are at the top of the food chain, bears tend to accumulate man-made toxins like pesticides and PCBs in their fat, which can impact health. Now, as a result of climate change, their habitat is shrinking. Overall decreases in the distribution and abundance of sea ice have already been recorded and are expected to continue. By the year 2050, projected changes in sea ice conditions could result in the loss of approximately two-thirds of the existing polar bear population, according to a series of studies by the USGS.

We may not have polar bears in our backyards, but that does not mean we cannot cause their habitat to melt away. The majority of scientists studying climate change and atmospheric processes believe humans are a significant factor in contributing to global warming, and it’s not humans living in the Arctic – it’s humans using electricity from coal-fired power plants and commuting to work, says Steven Amstrup of the U.S. Geological Service (USGS). Because the planet’s ecosystem is so interconnected, pollution can have serious consequences far from the source.

An estimated 21,500-25,000 polar bears currently live in Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway (Polar Bear Specialist Group, 2002). Dr. Ian Stirling of the Canadian Wildlife Service has been studying polar bears in Hudson Bay area for 30 years. The population there has already dropped by 22% in the last decade. The overall body condition of the bears has also been steadily declining. Thinner, stressed bears have lower reproductive and survival rates. Females only breed about once every three years, since cubs usually stay with their mother for 27 months. The USGS reports that only 45 percent of cubs are surviving to their first birthday. Just fifteen years ago, that number was 65 percent.

Polar bears depend on sea ice as a platform to hunt for prey like seals. The bear usually waits at a breathing hole until a seal surfaces. Then it smashes through the snow and grabs the seal with its jaws. Polar bears need to spend more than half of their time hunting, since maybe less than ten percent of attempts to catch seals succeed. Even in good hunting areas, a bear may catch only one seal every four or five days.

When the Arctic ice melts in late summer, the bears go inland and live off their fat reserves for the next four months. If the ice shrinks or melts earlier in the year, they are driven to shore earlier. As sea ice thins and fractures more due to warmer temperatures, it is more likely to drift in response to wind and currents, and bears must walk and swim farther and farther to hunt. In 2004, the U.S. Minerals Management Service documented the apparent drowning of at least four polar bears after the sea ice retreated a record 160 miles off the coast, followed by a severe storm. That same year, there were three documented instances of polar bears stalking, killing and eating their own kind. Some bears are moving closer to human settlements, where they scavenge garbage and sometimes end up eating things that are not good for them, like plastic and engine oil. The town of Churchill Manitoba had to set up an air conditioned “polar bear jail” for marauding bears that have become aggressive towards people.

The world’s leading polar bear researchers from the USGS, American and Canadian government agencies, academia and the private sector agree that the situation is serious.  One of the problems with polar bears is that by the time people realize the gravity of their situation, it’s going to be too late, says Dr. Andrew Derocher of the University of Alberta. Thus we must rely on the best available data from credible scientists if we are to take precautionary measures in time to make a difference.

Will There be Polar Bears in Fifty years? - Polar Bears International

Cosmic Classic - Supernova

Full sizeThis series of images shows how PTF 11kly has been steadily increasing in brightness over the last few days (click to enlarge). According to materials provided by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

Astronomers have spotted "the supernova of a generation," and it’s exploding right now. Astronomers are calling the supernova first sighted just two days ago an "Instant Cosmic Classic." Not only is the supernova brighter and closer to Earth (around 21 million light-years) than any we've observed in a generation, scientists actually managed to catch the supernova within hours of its explosion, making it the youngest supernova we've ever detected.

The supernova, which astronomers have named PTF 11kly, was discovered exploding in the Pinwheel Galaxy by Peter Nugent, the senior astronomer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. (The Pinwheel Galaxy can be spotted by star-gazers in the Big Dipper constellation.) "We caught this supernova very soon after explosion. PTF 11kly is getting brighter by the minute. It's already 20 times brighter than it was yesterday," said Nugent. "Observing PTF 11kly unfold should be a wild ride. It is an instant cosmic classic."

The left image taken on August 22 shows the event before it exploded supernova, approximately 1 million times fainter than the human eye can detect. The center image taken on August 23 shows the supernova at about 10,000 times fainter than the human eye can detect. The right image taken on August 24 shows that the event is 6 times brighter than the previous day.

The supernova is expected to continue increasing in intensity for another two weeks, by which point astronomers say it should be visibile in the night sky with a standard pair of binoculars.

Thanx to Witchy for the research

Al Qaeda's Second in Command Killed - Rahman

 Al-Qaida's second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, has been killed in Pakistan, delivering another big blow to a terrorist group that the U.S. believes to be on the verge of defeat, a senior Obama administration official said Saturday. The Libyan national who was the network's former operational leader rose to al-Qaida's No. 2 spot after the U.S. killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden during a raid on his Pakistan compound in May.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that al-Qaida's defeat was within reach if the U.S. could mount a string of successful attacks on the group's weakened leadership. "Now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them," Panetta said, "because I do believe that if we continue this effort we can really cripple al-Qaida as a major threat."

Al-Rahman was killed Aug. 22 in the lawless Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan, according to the official said, who insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence issues. The official would not say how al-Rahman was killed. But his death came on the same day that a CIA drone strike was reported in Waziristan. Such strikes by unmanned aircraft are Washington's weapon of choice for killing terrorists in the mountainous, hard-to-reach area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Al-Rahman, believed to be in his mid-30s, was a close confidant of bin Laden and once served as bin Laden's emissary to Iran. Al-Rahman was allowed to move freely in and out of Iran as part of that arrangement and has been operating out of Waziristan for some time, officials have said. Born in Libya, al-Rahman joined bin Laden as a teenager in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union.

After Navy SEALs killed bin Laden, they found evidence of al-Rahman's role as operational chief in his compound, U.S. officials have said. And proof in the trove of materials taken, that bin Laden was concerned about US strikes in and around Waziristan in Pakistan. The United States does not publicly confirm details of drone attacks but its military and the CIA in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the unmanned Predator aircraft in the region.Washington has called Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwest tribal region the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda, where Taliban and other Al-Qaeda-linked networks plot attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Preparing for Irene

 Don't be mean Irene
 Boarding up
 Stocking up on supplies like batteries, generators, water.
The boardwalks in Atlantic City are deserted

Hurricane Irene: Obama Warns of 'Historic'Storm

President Obama has warned that Hurricane Irene, currently looming off the east coast of the US, could be a "historic" storm. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of four states, and in low-lying areas of New York City. Seven states from North Carolina to Connecticut have declared emergencies ahead of Irene's arrival.

The category two storm has weakened a little yet is expected to make landfall with winds of up to 100mph. Irene, which has already caused havoc in the Caribbean, is expected to hit the coast of North Carolina on Saturday before barrelling northwards towards Washington and New York City a day later.  Both cities have now declared states of emergency, with authorities in the capital warning of a shortage of sandbags after high demand. Amtrak, the US rail network, announced it was cancelling services between Washington and Boston from Saturday, having already suspended operations south to Virginia and beyond.

At 20:00 EDT on Friday (00:00 GMT on Saturday), the storm was 180 miles (290km) south-south-west of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Irene had turned towards the north-north-west, the NHC said, in line with forecasts that said it would effectively hug the long, densely populated eastern seaboard of the US. A formal hurricane warning was in place along a vast stretch of coastline ranging from North Carolina, through Maryland, and right through New York City into New England.

Residents were told to get out of the way of the storm on Friday The wide span of the storm, which is generating strong rain and wind some 90 miles (150km) from its centre, means a tropical storm warning is place for an even wider area. By 22:00 EDT wind and rain was already being felt in towns along the North Carolina coast, US media reported.

Mr Obama, on holiday in Martha's Vineyard, an island on the Massachusetts coast, headed home from his break one night early.  On Friday he said in a statement to reporters: "I cannot stress this highly enough: if you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. "Don't wait, don't delay. We all hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst. All of us have to take this storm seriously." He added: "All indications point to this being a historic hurricane." The White House later said Mr Obama was returning a day early from his break to Washington to lead the government's response to the storm.

Irene, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, could affect up to 65 million people in major cities along the east coast from Washington to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston - the most densely populated corridor in America.

"We're going to have damages, we just don't know how bad," Craig Fugate, head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the Associated Press news agency. "This is one of the largest populations that will be impacted by one storm at one time."
If it hits New York and New England at category two, it will be the region's strongest storm since Hurricane Bob glanced off Massachusetts in 1991, and Hurricane Gloria, which caused extensive damage to New York City in 1985. Irene boasts hurricane force winds extending 90 miles from its centre, and tropical storm winds reaching up to 290 miles from the eye.

The American Red Cross said it was preparing dozens of emergency shelters along the east coast. States of emergency have been declared in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and in the nation's biggest city, New York. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state's transport network, including the New York City subway, would close from midday (16:00 GMT) on Saturday. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issues "mandatory" evacuation order

Airports operating by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - including JFK, La Guardia and Newark - will close to arriving flights at the same time. The airport closures are to prevent passengers being stranded at terminals when ground transportation is suspended, the Port Authority said. However, the airports will remain open for departing flights until further notice.
In Washington DC, Sunday's dedication of the new memorial for Martin Luther King Jr - which President Obama had been expected to attend - has been postponed until at least September.  The power company serving the Washington area advised of "potential widespread power outages" at the weekend.

More than 200,000 people in North Carolina are evacuating from coastal parts of the state, while residents hoping to ride out the storm are stocking up on food, water and fuel.  US authorities are warning of dangerous storm-surge seas, high waves and rip-tide currents up the east coast as far as Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Bodies Littered Floor of Tripoli Hospital

What was revealed today at a hospital in a Tripoli suburb was one of the most distressing and appalling things ever to occur there .  A once bustling, busy hospital is now littered with bodies - dozens, even hundreds of them. They were mainly men, but there were also some women and children. They were lying in corridors, on trolleys in wards and even piled up at the hospital entrance. Why they are all here and how they died is not clear.

What we do know is that the doctors and nurses who usually work here fled for their own lives on Monday when the Abu Salim district erupted in violence.  Many civilians, as well as fighters, were wounded or killed in the battle.  The dead and severely injured were simply left and abandoned at the hospital.  After four days of heavy, intense street fighting the bodies were literally piling up. In temperatures of more than 36C, the stench was as appalling as the images were gruesome.

Local people, feeling safer about venturing out of their houses, made a heroic attempt to clean up some of the mess and reclaim their hospital.  It is impossible, at this stage, to know exactly what happened at the hospital But their efforts were in vain, much of the basic infrastructure in Tripoli is too broken to function.  There was no running water, for example, to even attempt washing the bloodstained floors.

Many put the blame for what happened at the hospital on the Gaddafi regime. Some said that as the colonel lost control of his capital, his forces took brutal revenge on anyone suspected of opposing the man who ruled this country with an iron grip for more than 40 years.

One doctor who had returned to help the clean-up called it a "massacre". "There are more than 200 bodies here but there is no government in charge. What can we do? We urgently need international help to stop the situation deteriorating," Osama Bilil said.

It is impossible, at this stage, to know exactly what happened at the hospital. But the horrors there are a reminder of what Libya and its people have to overcome as they seek to finally defeat one of the most notorious rulers in modern history.

Libya - Inside Story

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene Barrels towards East Coast

 People up and down the east coast prepare to board up their windows

 In North Carolina, surfers wait for the big waves preceding the hurricane

President Obama has been briefed on the hurricane at his vacation spot in Martha's Vinyard

Authorities on the east coast of the US, from North Carolina to New York City, are preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Irene this weekend. The first hurricane of the Atlantic season is a category three storm, packing winds of 115mph (185km/h), and expected to get stronger. The US Navy has moved 36 ships out to sea to protect them and their port from high waves. Irene, currently over the Bahamas, has already caused havoc in the Caribbean.

States of emergency have been declared in Virginia, New Jersey, New York and in eastern North Carolina, allowing greater co-ordination between state and US federal disaster management authorities. "In this emergency I am activating all levels of state government to prepare for any situation that may be caused by Hurricane Irene," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

At 11:00 EDT  on Thursday, Irene was 105 miles north of Nassau, the Bahamian capital, and moving north north-west at 14mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. The expanding hurricane is now 580 miles wide and forecast to reach category four ahead of its expected arrival in North Carolina on Saturday.
It is then expected to weaken as it moves up the east coast, diminishing in strength to a still-powerful category two storm on Sunday. US authorities are warning of dangerous storm-surge seas, high waves and rip-tide currents along the south-eastern coast.

Amtrak, America's passenger rail service, announced it was cancelling train travel south of Washington on the east coast, and airlines predicted widespread disruptions to air travel at the weekend. In Virginia, the US Navy ordered its Second Fleet to leave Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on Thursday morning and head out to sea. "The forecasted destructive winds and tidal surge is too great to keep the ships in port," said Vice-Adm Daniel Holloway, the fleet's commander. "There is a much greater potential of not only the ships being damaged, but also the pier infrastructure.  Having the ships under way also makes them ready and available to respond to any national tasking, including any needed disaster response efforts."

North Carolina emergency officials have extended evacuation orders to include more than 200,000 tourists and residents in three coastal counties. Visitors to the region have been leaving the area, while residents are preparing to ride out the storm by stocking up on food, water and fuel.  "It wouldn't behove anyone to stay in these circumstances," Dare County emergency management spokeswoman Sharon Sullivan told the Associated Press.  "Businesses are boarding up. Nobody can guarantee their safety."

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was preparing for the worst. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie warned would-be holiday makers to avoid the shore, and urged people to evacuate ahead of the storm's anticipated arrival on Saturday night. "We do not want folks going to the shore this weekend," he said. "If you're at the shore now... I'm urging folks to voluntarily leave." The New York Police Department, the nation's largest, moved 50 small boats to low-lying areas to be ready for rescue missions.  The city's social services agencies are doubling their efforts to ensure homeless New Yorkers have access to shelter.
Also, crews were clearing the city's drainage system to make room for the torrents of rain expected when the storm passes to the city's east. The exact track of the hurricane is uncertain, but US emergency officials said the east coast from the Carolinas to New England was preparing for its impact.

Massive Diamond Planet Orbits Neutron Star


 The nursery song "twinkle twinkle, little star" might have a whole new meaning now that astronomers have found a planet they believe to be made almost entirely of diamonds. Scientists say the planet exists about 4,000 light years away from Earth, and is probably the remnants of a once-large dead star, Reuters reports.

"The evolutionary history and amazing density of the planet all suggest it is comprised of carbon," Matthew Bailes of the University of Technology in Melbourne told Reuters. He calls it "a massive diamond orbiting a neutron star every two hours in an orbit so tight it would fit inside our own Sun." Even though the planet is small in size, it has slightly more mass than the planet Jupiter. Scientists were able to find the planet by tracking its companion star, or a pulsar, using the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia.

As to what the diamond planet looks like, Ben Stappers of the University of Manchester said it's probably not what everyone pictures: "I don't know I could even speculate. I don't imagine that a picture of a very shiny object is what we're looking at here."
Astronomers detected a similar planet in December 2010, only 1,200 light years away.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Virginia Earthquake Felt in Washington and New York

Evacuated workers

Residents in New York spoke about the quake which was caught on camera in Washington and at a media briefing in NYC. A magnitude-5.8 earthquake has rattled the east coast of the United States.
The quake centred on the state of Virginia but was felt in Washington, where the Pentagon and US Capitol were evacuated, as well as in New York.

The National Cathedral was damaged and the Washington Monument closed. There were no immediate reports of injuries. Federal officials said two nuclear reactors had been taken offline near the epicentre of the quake but that no damage had been reported. A total of 12 nuclear plants declared "unusual events" after the quake.

The quake struck some 84 miles (135km) from south-west of Washington, at a depth of 3.7 miles (6km), the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. Its epicentre was about 8km (five miles) from the town of Mineral, in the state of Virginia. An initial measurement of 5.8 was later upgraded to 5.9, but later amended back to 5.8 by the USGS.

The quake was one of the most powerful on the east coast of the US since 1897, according to USGS records, matching the strength of a tremor in the state of New York in 1944. Three aftershocks were recorded during Tuesday, the USGS said, the first two measuring 2.8 and 2.2. The third shock, at 20:04 local time (00:04 GMT on Wednesday), was a magnitude-4.8 tremor.

The main earthquake shook Washington DC for about 30 seconds at 13:51 on Monday (17:51 GMT), causing office buildings to sway and houses to shake.  The streets of the city filled with evacuated workers minutes after the quake, and police moved swiftly to cordon off key government institutions, restricting access to federal buildings on Capitol Hill. Television monitors and lights swayed for about 30 seconds as the quake rumbled away, and the mobile phone network showed intermittent service for some time afterwards.

Spires on the main tower of Washington's National Cathedral were damaged "When it started, it felt like someone was moving furniture next door," Peter Walker reported in Washington.  "Things began to shake even more and so everyone rushed out into the corridor.  "The alarm went off and the building was evacuated. After an hour we were all sent home. There are traffic jams all over the city. The metro is really crowded and so some people are walking or cycling home."

President Barack Obama, on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, was briefed on the quake by his senior national security and emergency management staff, the White House said, but told that no emergency assistance had been requested.

Reports said the tremor was felt as far north as Boston, in North and South Carolina in the south, and as far west as Indianapolis and Detroit. In Charlottesville, Virginia. some 35 miles from the epicentre, resident Deb Godden said: "Our top floor apartment shook like crazy and there was a big roaring noise all around us. After that there was silence."

The AFP news agency said procedures put in place after the 9/11 attacks were activated in New York when the quake hit. Police guided people to local parks and away from tall buildings.

Rebels Overrun Gaddafi Tripoli Compound

 Libyan rebels have taken control of Col Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, one of the final areas that remained under his control. TV footage showed fighters breaking off the head of a statue of the Libyan leader and kicking it along the ground. They also seized items from his home. It is not known where Col Gaddafi or his family are.

Rebel leaders say they are in control of almost all of the capital, though there are still pockets of resistance.
Heavily armed fighters had streamed into the capital on Tuesday morning in dozens of pick-up trucks to take part in the attack on Bab al-Aziziya.

This is a symbolic moment for many people because Col Gaddafi has always been removed from his people; he has been locked away in his compound. Now, people are inside his house and are tearing it up. After five hours of intense fighting, they breached one of the main gates and then quickly overran the compound.
The rebels were shown destroying statues - including the iconic giant golden hand crushing a US fighter jet - firing guns in the air in celebration, and seizing weapons and ammunition from arms depots.

Col Gaddafi's Bedouin tent, where he used to receive visiting foreign dignitaries, was set on fire, while his golf cart, in which he appeared frequently, was paraded around the compound.  There were no obvious signs of resistance in the compound by Tuesday evening, despite reports that hundreds of Gaddafi loyalists had been tasked with guarding it. "We have won the battle," Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the top rebel commander in Tripoli, told al-Jazeera. "They fled like rats.We entered the tyrant's offices, his rooms, we searched everywhere, but there was no-one."

However, there are still pockets of resistance in the capital, including the Abu Salim and al-Hadba districts, and near the Hotel Rixos, where many foreign journalists are staying.

Although there is a real sense that this is the end of Col Gaddafi's rule, the real celebrations will not begin until he and his family are found. It is not known if they were in Bab al-Aziziya on Tuesday, but the complex is reported to be connected by underground tunnels to various key locations across the city.  The Gaddafi family are also believed to have access to numerous safe houses in Tripoli and beyond.

The situation is unclear in the colonel's hometown of Sirte, which has been a stronghold of regime loyalists. Reports said retreating government troops were heading there. And rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril, currently in Qatar, warned that there were still places that needed urgent help, such as the southern city of Sebha which is home to many members of Col Gaddafi's tribe.

"Today, the atrocious Gaddafi's brigades continued to bomb Sebha city viciously," said Mr Jibril, who is considered as prime minister of the interim rebel government, the National Transitional Council (NTC)."In the next stage, we must extend a helping hand and support to all the cities that have not yet risen, so as to rise and to join the procession of glory."

Members of the NTC, which has so far been based in the eastern city of Benghazi, said they planned to fly to Tripoli on Wednesday to start work on forming a new government. Meanwhile, the US state department said the US would seek to release between $1bn and $1.5bn  in frozen Libyan funds in the coming days, and hand the money to the NTC.

The uprising against Col Gaddafi's 41-year rule began in February. The rebels held the east of the country and pockets of the west, before making their push towards the capital on the weekend. Nato air strikes have been targeting Col Gaddafi's forces, acting on a UN mandate to protect civilians.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fight Rages for Libyan Capital

Libyan rebels are battling troops loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi for control of Tripoli, after they launched an assault on the capital from several directions. Rebel commanders say they have taken control of about 80% of the capital, including the headquarters of state TV. But fighting is still raging in parts of the city, and the rebels have not managed to find the Libyan leader.

World leaders have urged Col Gaddafi to step down.  President Obama said his 42-year rule "was coming to an end". The rebels were met by jubilant crowds in central Green Square, which was previously the scene of nightly pro-Gaddafi demonstrations. They have set up checkpoints in parts of the city, and claim that reinforcements are due to arrive by boat. But elsewhere in the city they have met stiff resistance.

A rebel spokesman said his forces came under fire from tanks emerging from the Gaddafi compound at Bab al-Azizia in western Tripoli early on Monday, and witnesses say there has been sustained gunfire in the area throughout the day.  Gaddafi loyalists remain in control of the streets around the Rixos Hotel, where many Western journalists are based. And rebels fighting in the west of the city were pushed back late on Monday

"We are bracing ourselves for another night of intense street fighting," a Tripoli resident told the BBC. "I think Gaddafi security forces will resort to guerrilla warfare because they know they do not have the support of the people." But another resident said rebel fighters were "breaking into people's houses, stealing everything", adding that the rebel assault would be "a disaster for Libya and Nato".

Rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), told a news conference on Monday afternoon that he had no idea where Col Gaddafi was. "We have no knowledge of Gaddafi being [in his compound], or whether he is still in or outside Libya," he said. Mr Abdul Jalil reiterated earlier claims that the rebels have captured Col Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, who was widely expected to succeed his father as leader until the unrest broke out earlier this year. The rebels now claim to have detained three of Col Gaddafi's sons - Saif al-Islam, Muhammad and Saadi. The International Criminal Court in The Hague is negotiating the transfer of Saif al-Islam on charges of war crimes. The court is also seeking the arrest of Col Gaddafi and the head of the intelligence service, Abdullah al-Sanussi.  Earlier, the NTC announced earlier that it would move its centre of operations to Tripoli from Benghazi, which has been in rebel hands since the early days of the uprising.

A diplomatic source told the AFP news agency that Col Gaddafi could still be in Bab al-Azizia. He has not been seen in public since May, although he has broadcast audio messages from undisclosed locations.  In an audio message broadcast late on Sunday, the Libyan leader urged residents to "save Tripoli" from the rebels.
"How come you allow Tripoli, the capital, to be under occupation once again?" he asked. "The traitors are paving the way for the occupation forces to be deployed in Tripoli."

Libyan Information Minister Moussa Ibrahim said the Gaddafi government still had 65,000 loyal soldiers under its command. However, other reports claimed some forces have surrendered to the rebels, including the special battalion charged with securing Tripoli.  Mr Ibrahim said fighting in the city on Sunday had left 1,300 people dead and 5,000 wounded. There is no confirmation of the figures. He accused Nato of backing "armed gangs" with air power, adding that the Gaddafi government was prepared to negotiate directly with the NTC. Meanwhile, in Green Square rebel supporters tore down the green flags of the Gaddafi government and trampled on portraits of the colonel.

The unity of the rebel forces will come under severe test in the coming days because of the imbalance of power in the country. All of the key military advances have come from forces in the west. But political power is in the hands of leaders from the east in the National Transition Council.  Libya's rebels have, in their advance on Tripoli, shown far better co-ordination than in the past and their desire to put members of Gaddafi's family on trial shows restraint and not revenge.

Medical and food aid are the first priority. As soon as possible, western embassies in Tripoli will reopen, and stabilisation advisers, building on lessons learnt in Afghanistan, will assist in ensuring that government services continue. A draft transition document has an ambitious timetable for a constitution to be drawn up within three months and elections held six months after that. The document also guarantees freedom and basic human rights under the law.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hans Litten: The man Who Infuriated Adolf Hitler

A new drama tells the story of a Jewish lawyer who confronted Hitler 80 years ago - earning the dictator's life-long hatred. So who was Hans Litten?

In the Berlin courtroom, Adolf Hitler's face burned a deep, furious red.  The future dictator was not accustomed to this kind of scrutiny. But here he was, being interrogated about the violence of his paramilitary thugs by a young man who represented everything he despised - a radical, principled, fiercely intelligent Jewish lawyer called Hans Litten. The Nazi leader was floundering in the witness stand. And when Litten asked why his party published an incitement to overthrow the state, Hitler lost his composure altogether."That is a statement that can be proved by nothing!" he shouted.

Litten's demolition of Hitler's argument that the Nazis were a peaceful, democratic movement earned the lawyer years of brutal persecution.  He was among the first of the fuehrer's political opponents to be rounded up after the Nazis assumed power. And even long afterwards, Hitler could not bear to hear his one-time tormentor's name spoken.  But although he was among the first to confront Hitler, Litten remains a little-known figure.

Now a drama and an accompanying documentary tell the story of a cantankerous, flawed but ultimately heroic man. Litten was, long before he confronted the dictator, a staunch anti-Nazi. Although his father, a law professor, had converted from Judaism to Christianity and played down his background to further his career, the young Litten went in the opposite direction, joining a Jewish youth group and learning Hebrew out of a mixture of adolescent rebellion and sympathy for the dispossessed.

As a lawyer, he specialized in defending workers and rank-and-file members of the German Communist Party (KPD). However, he was no Stalinist, clashing with the KPD leadership for following Moscow's orders. "Two people are too many for my party," he would say. Indeed, his hard-line adherence to his principles meant Litten was not always regarded as sympathetic character.
"He was a saint. But I have a feeling that, if I sat down to have a beer with him, I wouldn't like him," says Benjamin Carter Hett, author of Crossing Hitler: The Man Who Put the Nazis on the Witness Stand, a biography of Litten. "He was in many ways a difficult man to deal with. He was doctrinaire in his politics. Even his closest friends said he wasn't good with people." However, it was Litten's belligerence, as well as his forensic intelligence, that made his interrogation of Hitler so effective.

In 1931, Litten sought to have criminal charges brought against four members of the Nazi party's Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitary group after they attacked a dance hall frequented by communists, killing three people. Litten called Hitler as a witness, hoping to expose the Nazi party's deliberate strategy of overthrowing democracy by bringing terror to the streets. Hitler had previously assured middle-class voters that the SA was an organisation dedicated to "intellectual enlightenment".  Over three hours in May 1931, this claim was dismantled by Litten's precise, detailed questioning.

At first, Hitler insisted to Litten that he was committed to "100% legality". But his composure began to crack when Litten asked him why he had been accompanied by armed men. "That is complete lunacy," the Nazi leader barked. But the decisive blow came when Hitler was asked why the Nazi party had published a pamphlet by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's chief propagandist, which promised the movement would "make revolution" and "chase parliament to the devil" using "German fists". Asked by Litten how Goebbels's rise up the Nazi hierarchy could be squared with a commitment to legality, Hitler began to stammer and "search convulsively for an answer", according to one contemporary newspaper report of the trial.

According to World War II historian Laurence Rees, writer and director of the television series Nazis: A Warning from History, it was not Litten's focus on the Nazis' violent methods that enraged Hitler the most. By 1931, most Germans could not fail to have noticed that the SA were brutal streetfighters, he says. And Hitler himself was accustomed to - and indeed thrived on - the venomous abuse directed at him from opponents. But, he says, Litten's meticulous, carefully reasoned questioning was guaranteed to enrage him.
"What drove Hitler berserk is that here is someone taking him coolly and calmly through the evidence," says Rees. "He hates that kind of intellectual argument - he prefers either haranguing or sulking. It's not just Litten's Jewishness. If you were going to come up with a person that Hitler would loathe, it would be him."

The trial was widely publicized and marked out Litten as a hate figure in the Nazi press, which called for him to be physically attacked. As Hitler edged closer to power, friends urged Litten to flee Germany. But he refused. "The millions of workers can't get out," he said. "So I must stay here as well." Soon the Nazis were in control. When the new regime used the Reichstag fire in February 1933 as an excuse to suspend civil liberties, Litten was among the first to be rounded up.

Over the next five years he was held in a succession of notorious concentration camps including Sonnenburg, Dachau and Buchenwald. He was singled out for especially brutal treatment at the hands of the guards, who knew full well of the fuehrer's personal antipathy towards him. Nonetheless, throughout his incarceration he was admired by his fellow inmates for his kindness towards them and his insistence on keeping his dignity intact. When the guards ordered prisoners to stage a performance in celebration of a Nazi anniversary, Litten read out a poem called Thoughts Are Free.  By February 1938, he could endure no more. He took his own life by hanging himself. He was 34.

After the Nazi regime was finally smashed, Litten's reputation as a staunch opponent of Hitler was revived. A plaque in Berlin was dedicated to him in 1951, the headquarters of the German bar association is at Hans Litten House and the lawyers' association of Berlin named itself itself the Hans Litten Bar Association after reunification.

He stood alone and defied the Nazi regime. He was a real hero and is an inspiration today to all people who are resisting tyranny in many parts of the world as you read this.